Ed Lauter, Prolific Character Actor, Dead at 74

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The butler from “The Artist” had been battling mesothelioma

Ed Lauter, the incredibly prolific character actor who played a butler in Oscar best-picture winner “The Artist” and whose film and television appearances numbered in the hundreds, has died. He was 74.

Lauter was diagnosed in May with mesothelioma, a form of terminal cancer most commonly associated with exposure to asbestos, his publicist told TheWrap on Wednesday.

“What good fortune to be married to a man who so easily combined love, kindness, caring and a sense of humor ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous,” said his wife, Mia. “Our marriage, as they say in the business, was one hell of a run. I’ll miss him dearly as well as his family and countless friends. Ed Lauter really mattered.”

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Lauter’s film and TV credits are almost too daunting to highlight; he played dozens of memorable police captains, sports coaches, mob heavies, father figures and whatever other parts were lying around for a big fella with angular feartures and a commanding presence.

Lauter made his big screen debut in the 1971 western “Dirty Little Billy,” and his last film was “The Town that Dreaded Sundown,” a remake of the 1976 horror film. He kept on working after his cancer diagnosis, and had recently appeared as a recurring character on the TV series “Shameless,” in last year’s “Trouble With the Curve,” and as Peppy’s butler in “The Artist.”

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It was as if there was no role Lauter would turn down, whether in TV or film: He did drama (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Leaving Las Vegas”), comedy (“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Not Another Teen Movie”), genre stuff (“The X-Files,” “True Romance”) TV movies (2005’s “Into the Fire”) – just about anything – often playing cops, tough guys or military figures, though almost never as the lead.

The native Long Islander appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, “Family Plot,” a performance that the suspense maestro liked so much that he lined up Lauter for a major role in his next project — but it was never made, due to the director’s failing health and eventual death in 1980.

Though he was in great pain toward the end, he recently attended a charity event at the Will Rogers Polo Grounds and a Hispanics for the Opera Gala that benefitted needy children.