Hollywood Mourns Ron Silver

The actor was an activist who had equal passion on both sides of the political coin.

Last Updated: March 17, 2009 @ 6:59 PM

Back in 1991, when he was a heavy supporter of traditional liberal causes, Ron Silver was quoted as saying that actors had an obligation to be political.

“They say that Hollywood is sex without substance, and Washington is substance without sex, so maybe the marriage of the two is mutually intriguing,” he told the Associated Press.

Political activism was a belief he followed until he died Sunday of esophageal cancer – though following the 9/11 attacks his politics took a 180-turn from left to right.

 

"Ron’s political life changed on 9/11," recalled political commentator Lawrence O’Donnell, who was an Emmy Award-winning producer for "The West Wing," in an interview with TheWrap. "Ron did not change parties — that’s what people do not understand. He did not ever give a speech about how great the Bush tax cut is. He was a Giuliani Republican." (See accompanying article, "Lawrence O’Donnell Remembers Ron Silver.)

 

And while his Republican views may have kept many of his Hollywood colleagues at arm’s length, his peers from both sides of the political aisle paid heartfelt tributes to the actor on Monday.

Ben Stiller remembered Silver for his humanity on the Huffington Post. “Through the years I looked up to him as an actor, his cool Jewish intensity and humor were able to take him from sitcoms to action movie heavies … and he was so good at all of it.”

TV writer Lionel Chetwynd described Silver as a “radical centrist” on Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood blog. “By the early hours of 9/12 he concluded that despite all the goodwill in the world there were forces loose with whom there could never be compromise,” Chetwynd wrote. “It was never a matter of party or political allegiance.  It was only about love of country — indeed of western civilization, whose classics and aspirations he knew so well.”

Silver established himself on stage, in film and on television throughout his 40 years in show business, including winning the Tony for David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow” and an Emmy nomination for his role as presidential campaign adviser Bruno Gianelli on “The West Wing.”

In 1989, he joined Alec Baldwin, Christopher Reeve, Susan Sarandon, Blair Brown and Stephen Collins in founding a nonprofit advocacy group known as the Creative Coalition. Although TCC is not affiliated with a political party, the organization advocates a decidedly Democratic stance on issues including First Amendment rights and public education.

Indeed, Baldwin memorialized Silver in his Huffington Post blog. “I learned a lot of what I know today from Ron,” Baldwin wrote. “Study, learn your opponents’ stances, have the cover ready for whatever fact, opinion or response they throw back at you. We had some real successes fighting on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts back then.”

But the horrors of 9/11 permanently changed Silver’s outlook, and he – unlike most others in Hollywood — became a fervent supporter of then-President Bush’s invasion of first Afganhistan and then Iraq.

While addressing the 2004 Republican Convention, Silver dubbed himself  “a 9/11 Republican,” although he reportedly registered as an independent. “Under the unwavering leadership of President Bush, the cause of freedom and democracy is being advanced by the courageous men and women serving in our armed services,” he said. “The president is doing exactly the right thing. That is why we need this president at this time.”

Silver later said that he hadn’t worked in 10 months due to his unpopular politics in Hollywood. In 2007, he wrote on writer Roger L. Simon’s blog, “I’ve become increasingly disadmired by members of my profession as well as many others.”

Following the convention, he rarely acted on television after 2004 but was a frequent guest on political shows like “Real Time with Bill Maher” and “Hardball with Chris Matthews.”

 

In that time, he appeared in five films, including a documentary he executive produced called “Broken Promises: The United Nations at 60.”  He was attached co-star opposite Daryl Hannah and Burt Reynolds in the drama “A Fonder Heart,” which is slated to begin shooting later this month.

 

O’Donnell said that though Silver was told two years ago he only had a couple of months to live, he faced his prognosis with "astonishing bravery."

 

"He was very open about discussing his health," O’Donnell said. "Ron was funny until the end. It was an astonishing thing to watch him deal with this in a way that he made seem perfectly normal. But it wasn’t different from the way he’d lived the previous 60 years. I never saw him tired, weary, defeated in any sense. He was just an extraordinarily strong person."