Ron Silver, a character actor of such power that he rose to the standing of a movie star for a few years in the late ’80s-early ’90s, died today at the age of 62. His career was a fascinating one, encompassing brilliant performances on Broadway (Speed-the-Plow), on television (Wiseguy), and the cinema (Enemies: A Love Story, Reversal of Fortune). He was also unique among American performers in that the intensity of his interest in politics and political affairs was matched by his knowledge. A founder of the Creative Coalition, which all but inaugurated the age of the lobbying star, Silver was never an orthodox Hollywood liberal, in part because he was always keenly aware of the fragility and danger of Israel’s position and because he did not assume that his absolutist commitment to free speech required him to share every view with the American Civil Liberties Union.
September 11 merely hastened an ideological journey he was already making, and he was without illusion that his plain-spoken support for George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani was going to make his career a more difficult one. It is difficult to say how much injury it did him, since he got sick not long after the 2004 election and was battling cancer for years.
What was most striking about Ron was that he was a pleasure to talk to — and I don’t mean because he was a famous showbiz person who could reasonably simulate an intelligent conversation, a kind of grading on the curve that most of us lowly writers do when we come face to face with a glamorous celebrity who deigns to converse with us. Ron knew what he was talking about, he was a terrific ranconteur, and it was obvious that had he chosen a public-policy career, he would have done just fine. (He was also a dedicated COMMENTARY reader.) But he found himself as an actor, and he gave us immense pleasure in the doing of it, and it is as an actor that Ron Silver will be remembered as one of the finest of his time.