Character Actor Ed Lauter, 74, Dies from Mesothelioma

Actor Ed Lauter

Veteran character actor Ed Lauter, who worked for more than 40 years in the film and television industry, died Wednesday after a short bout with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

Lauter, 74, was just diagnosed in May, publicist Edward Lozzi told the Hollywood Reporter. Lauter joined a growing  list of high-profile Americans who have been killed by mesothelioma.

Celebrity Sean Sasser, from the reality television show “The Real World San Francisco,” died in August.

Asbestos is the naturally occurring mineral that was used extensively in the building of America throughout the 20th century. Although asbestos use has been dramatically reduced in recent decades, exposure continues today as the material ages and becomes airborne in commercial and residential construction.

Lauter Played Variety of Roles

Lauter appeared in more than 200 films and television projects, becoming the latest well-known victim of the disease.  An estimated 3,000 Americans are diagnosed annually with mesothelioma, but approximately 10,000 die each year from one of several asbestos-related diseases.

He likely was exposed to asbestos at a much younger age. There is typically a lengthy latency period (10-50 years) between exposure to microscopic asbestos fibers and a diagnosis. Because mesothelioma often spreads beyond the pleural lining in the chest cavity, where it usually begins, the average life expectancy after diagnosis is only 6 to 18 months.

The actor played a wide variety of characters, and was best known for his supporting roles alongside Hollywood mega stars, playing both authority figures and con men. He was the prison guard and Burt Reynolds’ nemesis in “The Longest Yard” from 1974. He played a shady gas station attendant in Alfred Hitchcock’s last film, “The Family Plot.” Lauter also played a vigilante alongside Charles Bronson in “Death Wish 3.”

He joined Clint Eastwood as a baseball scout in “Trouble with the Curve,” in 2012. Lauter also teamed with Tom Cruise in “Born on the Fourth of July,” and appeared in “The New Centurions” with George C. Scott.

Lauter recently appeared in “The Artist,” an Oscar-winning film in 2011.

Sudden Death

He still was working in film at the time of his diagnosis earlier this year. He will appear in four more films that will be released in the coming months. Lauter also worked as a stand-up comedian, doing a variety of impersonations, including James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart  and Burt Lancaster.

He made his television debut in 1971 in an episode of “Mannix.” His first movie role came the next year with “Dirty Little Billy.” He was known for his roles in myriad television crime stories. He had parts in “Kojak,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Ironside,” “Cannon,” “Magnum P.I.,” and “Miami Vice,” among others.

Other Celebrity Victims of Mesothelioma

The well-known victims of mesothelioma came from various backgrounds – actors, athletes, politicians, servicemen, musicians – they shared the misfortune of asbestos exposure.

Those killed by the disease include:

  • Steve McQueen (actor, 1980)
  • Paul Gleason (actor, 2006)
  • Merlin Olsen (football player, actor, broadcaster, 2010)
  • Warren Zevon (musician, 2003)
  • Bruce Vento (U.S. Congressman, 2000)
  • Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., (U.S. Navy Admiral, 2000)
  • Hamilton Jordan (White House Chief of Staff, 2008)
  • Terry McCann (Olympic gold medalist, 2006)

Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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