Obituary: Tom Aldredge / Longtime character actor in theater, film

Feb. 28, 1928-July 22, 2011

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Tom Aldredge, an Emmy-winning actor who for five decades was ubiquitous on stage and screen, seen in everything from Sondheim to "The Sopranos," died July 22 in Tampa, Fla. He was 83.

The cause was lymphoma, his manager, Matthew Sullivan, said.

A lean, beaky Midwesterner, Mr. Aldredge seemed to have stepped out of a Grant Wood painting. It was a mien that foreordained a life as a character actor -- in particular a life of portraying satisfyingly cantankerous older men.

In 1979, on Broadway, he created the role of Norman Thayer Jr., the 80-year-old at the center of Ernest Thompson's comedy "On Golden Pond," in which he starred opposite Frances Sternhagen. (In the 1981 film version, the roles were played by Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn.)

His more than two dozen other Broadway credits include a revival of "The Little Foxes," by Lillian Hellman, in which he played Horace, husband of the scheming Regina Giddens (played by Elizabeth Taylor); and the Stephen Sondheim musicals "Into the Woods," in which he played the Narrator, and "Passion," in which he played Doctor Tambourri.

Mr. Aldredge was nominated for five Tony Awards. He received a Drama Desk Award in 1972 for his portrayal of Ozzie, the father of a blinded Vietnam veteran in David Rabe's dark comedy "Sticks and Bones." He won a Daytime Emmy in 1978 as Shakespeare in "Henry Winkler Meets William Shakespeare," an episode of "The CBS Festival of Lively Arts for Young People."

His other television credits include recurring roles on "The Sopranos" (as Carmela's father), "Ryan's Hope" and "Damages." He appeared last year in "Boardwalk Empire" as the father of the kingpin Nucky Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi.

Thomas Ernest Aldredge was born on Feb. 28, 1928, in Dayton, Ohio, and received his training at the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago.

He made his Broadway debut in 1959 in the musical "The Nervous Set." In the early 1960s, he performed with the Premise, a Greenwich Village improvisational troupe that also included Buck Henry and Gene Hackman.

His film credits include "Cold Mountain" (2003) and "What About Bob?" (1991)

Mr. Aldredge's theatrical calling nearly did not happen. In the 1940s, then a prelaw student at the University of Dayton, he visited New York. Ambling through the theater district, he came upon two rough-hewn men in the alley behind the Ethel Barrymore Theater.

The young Mr. Aldredge had little interest in theater, but he wanted to see the inside of a grand Broadway house. He asked the stagehands -- for stagehands they must surely be -- for a peek.

"Buy a ticket," one replied, and he did, for $1.80.

From his seat, Mr. Aldredge watched as the "stagehands" -- Karl Malden and Marlon Brando -- walked out under the lights to play "A Streetcar Named Desire," and after that he was never completely the same.


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