Actor Ron Leibman dead at 82; starred in ‘Norma Rae’ with Sally Field

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This Sept. 18, 2005 file photo shows Ron Leibman, left, with his wife Jessica Walter at the 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Leibman appeared in movies, theater and television in a career that spanned six decades. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Actor Ron Leibman, who appeared in movies, theater and television in a career that spanned six decades and won a Tony award for Tony Kushner’s iconic play ”Ängels in America,” has died after an illness. He was 82.

Leibman’s agent, Robert Attermann, said the actor died Friday. He gave no further details, but a person who knew the actor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the cause was pneumonia. Leibman is survived by his wife, the actress Jessica Walter.

In his lengthy career, Leibman played a huge variety of roles both dramatic and comic. He appeared in numerous films including “Norma Rae,” opposite Sally Field, and “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

He won an Emmy award in 1979 for the short-lived CBS series “Kaz,” which he also created. He was perhaps best known on television for his role on “Friends,” though, in which he played Dr. Leonard Green, the father of Rachel, played by Jennifer Aniston.

Liebman also had the role of Bob Crane’s agent in the 2002 Crane bio-flick “Auto Focus,” which was based on the book The Murder of Bob Crane. The actor also had a small role in the 2004 hit “Garden State.”

A crowning moment of Leibman’s career was his leading-actor Tony in 1993 for playing the crucial role of Roy Cohn, the conservative lawyer and chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy who died of AIDS in 1986. Leibman’s performance was called ”blood-churning” by New York Times critic Frank Rich, and “frenzied” by Associated Press critic Michael Kuchwara.

Accepting his Tony, Leibman told the audience that he’d seen his first Broadway play at 3 years old.

“I’ve been a professional actor for 35 years,” he said. “ ‘Angels in America’ is my tenth Broadway play, and this is my first Tony nomination. I hope you know in your hearts how deeply grateful I am to be here tonight.” Thanking his wife, Jessica, he quipped: “Maybe we can get an apartment with a washer-dryer now.”

Leibman was born Oct. 11, 1937 in New York, and attended Ohio Wesleyan University. An earlier marriage to actress Linda Lavin ended in divorce.

“Ron was an incredibly talented actor with a distinguished career in film, TV and theater,” said Attermann, his agent. “Our thoughts go out to his wife, Jessica, and his family.”

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