Seymour Cassel, actor

Seymour Cassel
Seymour Cassel
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Seymour Cassel, who has died at 84, was a live-wire pillar of independent film, known for his frequent collaborations with directors John Cassavetes and Wes Anderson.

Born in Detroit, he travelled frequently with his burlesque dancer mother as a child, and never met his father.

“I started performing when I was three. I’d come out in a little checkered suit and pull down the clown’s pants – I loved that,” he said.

“I was a little ham and was a very open kid, probably because I was around adults all the time.”

He was an angry and rebellious teenager who started drinking at 13. His mother shipped him off to live with his godmother in Detroit, where he stayed until enlisting in the Navy at 17.

He eventually made his way to New York in the 1950s to pursue acting, launching a 60-year career with appearances in more than 100 films.

It was there that he met Cassavetes, who he said “saved” his life, and made his film debut in his 1958 feature Shadows, which he also associate-produced, almost by accident.

It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. In 1959 he followed Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands to Los Angeles where he lived in their guest house.

He went on to work for Cassavetes often, with roles in Faces, which earned him a best supporting actor nomination in 1969, Minnie And Moskowitz, The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie, Opening Night and Love Streams.

The films put him on the radar of many and he got the chance to work with greats like Sam Peckinpah in Convoy, Elia Kazan in The Last Tycoon and Nicolas Roeg in Track 29 and Cold Heaven.

His journey in Hollywood was not without issues, mostly the result of a hard-partying lifestyle with the likes of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones that took a toll on his health, marriage and family life.

He even spent time in jail in 1982, and went into recovery in the mid-80s.

Cassel bounced back, however, and in 1998 became known to a new generation as a result of a fruitful collaboration with Anderson, as Bert Fischer in Rushmore. He went on to work with Anderson him twice more, in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, and The Royal Tennebaums.

He is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.