Who was Vincent Schiavelli?
Vincent Schiavelli was an American actor, comedian, and food writer of Italian descent, best known for starring in supporting roles in films such as ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Batman Returns.’ Born and raised in New York City, Vincent attended ‘New York University,’ where he participated in the university’s theater program. He started his acting career doing theater shows in the 1960s and made his screen debut in 1971, with the film titled ‘Taking Off.’ He had his first major acting breakthrough with the supporting role of ‘Bruce Frederickson’ in the comedy–drama film ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ He was also known as “the man with the sad eyes.” He had round eyes and a tall frame, and he attributed his physical uniqueness to a condition called Marfan syndrome. Nevertheless, his unique appearance became his identity, and he used it to his fullest, playing comical and villainous roles in films such as ‘Batman Returns,’ ‘Ghost,’ ‘Tomorrow Never Dies,’ and ‘Man on the Moon.’ Apart from being an actor, Vincent also had a keen interest in cooking and had published three food-based books. Before his death, he was hailed as one of Hollywood’s best character actors of all time.
Childhood & Early Life
Vincent Schiavelli was born Vincent Andrew Schiavelli, on November 11, 1948, in New York City, US, to Katherine Coco and John Schiavelli. His was a Sicilian–American family with Italian roots. His grandfather was a cook for an Italian baron before he moved to the US. Vincent’s interest in food journalism was inspired by his grandfather.
He was also interested in acting. He attended the ‘Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School.’ He was active in the school’s drama society and was a popular child in school due to his stage shows. He was also a member of the ‘National Honor Society’ in school. Later, he enrolled into the theater program of ‘New York University’ and participated in many plays in order to hone his skills as an actor.
He had a unique appearance. He had droopy, round eyes and was quite tall. This, somehow, marred his chances of getting lead roles. However, he did not give up. In the late 1960s, he began participating in professional plays. By the 1970s, he had started working in films.
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Vincent made his acting debut in 1971, with a supporting role in the film titled ‘Taking Off.’ The comedy–drama film was a big critical success and was received positively at the 1971 ‘Cannes Film Festival,’ where it won the ‘Grand Prix.’
With a successful debut in Hollywood, Vincent appeared in a slew of supporting roles in films such as ‘The Great Gatsby,’ ‘For Pete’s Sake,’ and ‘The Happy Hooker.’
In 1975, he got a big break when he was cast as one of the inmates in a mental asylum in the film titled ‘One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest.’ The comedy–drama film starred Jack Nicholson in the lead role. Vincent’s portrayal as ‘Bruce Frederickson’ was appreciated. The film became a huge critical and commercial success.
However, his distinct appearance made him suitable to play only a certain kind of roles. Even after delivering a few early successful films, he was signed for uncredited roles in films such as ‘Next Stop, Greenwich Village’ and ‘Another Man, Another Chance.’
In the late 1970s, he appeared in supporting roles in films such as ‘Rescue from Gilligan’s Island,’ ‘The Frisco Kid,’ and ‘Escape.’
In the 1980s, Vincent appeared in small roles in films such as ‘The Gong Show Movie,’ ‘Nightside,’ ‘The Return,’ and ‘Night Shift.’
In 1982, he appeared in the coming-of-age comedy film titled ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High,’ based on the 1981 book of the same name. The film featured Vincent as a biology teacher named ‘Mr. Vargas.’ The film was a big commercial and critical success, and Vincent reprised his role as the teacher in the 1986 TV adaptation titled ‘Fast Times.’ However, the series was short-lived and was canceled after seven episodes.
In 1987, Vincent earned the first leading role of his career, in the short comedy film titled ‘Dorf on Golf.’ The film featured him as ‘Leonard.’ He then reprised his role in the 30-minute film titled ‘Dorf and the First Games of Mount Olympus.’
In 1990, Vincent appeared as a subway ghost in the fantasy–thriller film titled ‘Ghost.’ The film was a huge commercial success and was praised by critics, too. It provided Vincent added leverage at the box office. As a result, he started getting better roles in bigger productions in the 1990s.
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In 1992, Vincent appeared in the Tim Burton-directed superhero film titled ‘Batman Returns.’ The film featured him as ‘The Organ Grinder,’ one of the main villains and the chief associate of ‘The Penguin.’ The film earned some great reviews and was successful despite being criticized for being “too dark.” it was one of the highest-grossing films that year.
In 1997, he starred as a villain in the ‘James Bond’ film titled ‘Tomorrow Never Dies.’ He played ‘Dr. Kaufman’ in the film. It was a huge critical and commercial success.
In the 2000s, during the last few years of his acting career, Vincent also appeared in a few Italian films, such as ‘Ferrari’ and ‘Oliviero Rising.’
Although Vincent was never listed among the leading men of Hollywood, he was always honored as one of the most well-known American character actors.
He had also authored three books on the art of cooking, namely, ‘Papa Andrea's Sicilian Table: Recipes from a Sicilian Chef as Remembered by His Grandson,’ ‘Bruculinu, America: Remembrances of Sicilian-American Brooklyn, Told in Stories and Recipes,’ and ‘Many Beautiful Things: Stories and Recipes from Polizzi Generosa.’ He was a regular contributor of food articles in magazines and newspapers. In 2001, he received the highly regarded ‘James Beard Foundation Journalism Award.’
Family & Personal Life
Vincent Schiavelli suffered from Marfan syndrome. He had served as the co-chairman of the ‘National Marfan Foundation.’
Vincent met actor Allyce Beasley during the shoot of the series ‘Moonlighting.’ The couple got married in 1985 and stayed together until they got divorced in 1988. Their son, Andrea Joseph Schiavelli, was born in 1987.
In 1992, Vincent married popular American harpist Carol Mukhalian. The couple stayed together until Vincent’s death in 2005.
Vincent died from lung cancer on December 26, 2005. He was 57 at the time of his death.