F. Murray Abraham

F. Murray Abraham Headshot

Actor • Director

Birth Date: October 24, 1939

Age: 84 years old

Birth Place: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Having kicked around off-Broadway theater while playing a number of small roles on film and television, actor F. Murray Abraham was vaulted to stardom with an Oscar-winning turn as the pious, but vindictive composer Antonio Salieri in Milos Forman's brilliant "Amadeus" (1984).

Prior to his star-marking performance, Abraham had small roles in notable films like "Serpico" (1973), "All the President's Men" (1976) and "Scarface" (1983). In between, he appeared frequently on the stage, mainly in off- and off-off-Broadway productions, while he was later recognized for playing the green grapes in the famed Fruit of the Loom commercials from the late-1970s. After his award-winning turn, however, Abraham worked steadily, but struggled to find quality projects, leading some to proclaim that he suffered from an Oscar jinx. He co-starred alongside Sean Connery in "The Name of the Rose" (1986), was uncredited in the famous flop "The Bonfire of the Vanities" (1990), and headed the Greek chorus in Woody Allen's "Mighty Aphrodite" (1995).

After supporting roles in "Mimic" (1997) and "Finding Forester" (2000), Abraham transitioned to the small screen by frequently narrating the acclaimed wildlife show "Nature" (PBS, 1982- ), while appearing in episodes of "Saving Grace" (TNT, 2007-2010) and "The Good Wife" (CBS, 2009-16). Though his stature might have diminished since "Amadeus," Abraham was an in-demand performer capable of delivering quality turns in a wide array of roles.

Born on Oct. 24, 1939 in Pittsburgh, PA, Abraham was raised in the border town of El Paso, TX by his father, Fahrid, an auto mechanic, and his mother, Josephine, a homemaker. According to Abraham, he grew up a bit of a hoodlum, and by the time he was 16 years old, he was running with gangs, stealing cars and getting into fights with knives and chains. But a high school drama teacher noticed his potential and prompted him to perform in front of the class - an event that instantly changed the course of his life. Instead of heading down the average working stiff path, Abraham found his calling and won a scholarship to study acting at the University of Texas at Austin. Instead of graduating, however, he moved to Los Angeles to seek fame and fortune, and eked out a living parking cars while sleeping on the beach. He floated around the edges of the L.A. theater scene without gaining much traction. But he did meet Kate Hannon, whom he married in 1962.

Though he had a fairly long run performing in Ray Bradbury's "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit," Abraham tired of being in Los Angeles and moved to New York City in 1965. While there, he began taking his acting more seriously and studied his craft under acclaimed drama coach, Uta Hagen, at HB Studio. But after a year, Hagen became frustrated with his inability to learn and kicked him out in front of the class. He knocked around several off- and off-off-Broadway productions while he worked as a waiter and his wife worked as a secretary. He eventually made his screen debut as an usher in the comedy "They Might Be Giants" (1971), starring George C. Scott. From there, Abraham had an uncredited role as Al Pacino's partner in Sidney Lumet's classic crime drama, "Serpico" (1973), and followed with a series of small parts that included playing a bad guy in an episode of "Kojak" (CBS, 1973-78) and one of the officers who arrests the Watergate criminals in "All the President's Men" (1976). In between, he performed on stage in productions of "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1975) and "The Sunshine Boys" (1975).

One of his biggest claims to fame at the time came not from a film or stage role, but from playing a bunch of green grapes in the classic Fruit of the Loom commercials. Meanwhile, Abraham continued performing in small roles, most notably playing an underboss to Robert Loggia's wealthy drug dealer, Frank Lopez, in Brian De Palma's classic "Scarface" (1983), starring Al Pacino. Abraham was catapulted into the limelight with his starring role in Milos Foreman's excellent drama, "Amadeus" (1984), an adaptation of Peter Shaffer's Broadway hit about the destructive rivalry between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) and Italian composer Antonio Salieri (Abraham). Abraham delivered a brilliant performance as the vindictive Salieri, who remains both in awe and jealous of the vulgar Mozart and his God-given genius. Driven by his desire to undermine his rival, Salieri uses his position as the personal composer to Austrian emperor Joseph II (Jeffrey Jones) to sabotage Mozart's career and ultimately destroy his life. The film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Abraham.

After his Academy Award-winning performance, Abraham began appearing more frequently in higher-profile films, but ultimately suffered from the so-called Oscar jinx. In fact, the early success that was followed by years of mediocrity prompted noted film critic Leonard Maltin to call such an occurrence the "F. Murray Abraham Syndrome," a condition the actor dismissed out of hand. Meanwhile, he appeared as Bernardo Gui opposite Sean Connery in the box office flop, "The Name of the Rose" (1986), and followed with a return to the stage in Mike Nichols' vaunted stage production of "Waiting for Godot" (1988). He went on to play roles in rather forgettable movies like "An Innocent Man" (1989) starring Tom Selleck, "Beyond the Stars" (1989) with Martin Sheen, and "Cadence" (1990) starring Charlie Sheen. Luckily, he was uncredited in the infamous misfire, "The Bonfire of the Vanities" (1990), a commercial and critical flop that damaged a number of careers involved. After playing gangster Arnold Rothstein, the man who fixed the 1919 World Series, in "Mobsters" (1991), he was Pope Julius II in the TNT miniseries, "A Season of Giants" (1991).

Abraham spoofed his performance in "Amadeus" with a cameo as himself in the Arnold Schwarzenegger action-comedy, "Last Action Hero" (1993), where he was pegged by a young boy (Austin O'Brien) as the guy who killed Mozart. After a turn in the made-for-TV adaptation of Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" (NBC, 1993), he joined the cast of the award-winning Broadway play, "Angels in America" (1994), in which he was appointed the difficult task of replacing Ron Leibman in playing one of U.S. history's most famous political witch hunters, Roy Cohn, who undergoes manic decay while steadfastly denying that he is dying of AIDS. The role was a plum choice for Abraham, who played the character with insidious intelligence rather than his predecessor's whirling vitriol. Back on the screen, he was a hunter of the homeless in the urban fantasy film "Surviving the Game" (1994), played Al Capone in "Dillinger and Capone" (1995), and was the leader of the Greek Chorus in Woody Allen's light-hearted "Mighty Aphrodite" (1995), starring Mira Sorvino. Following a supporting role as Joseph Stalin in the Australian-made historic comedy, "Children of the Revolution" (1996), he reunited with Sorvino to play Dr. Gates in Guillermo del Toro's morbid horror-sci-fi hybrid, "Mimic" (1997).

As he drew closer to the new millennium, Abraham's film career in the States began to falter, leading to his transition to make films overseas. He was unrecognizable under alien makeup as Ahdar Ru'afo in "Star Trek: Insurrection" (1998), and played the biblical Noah in "Muppets from Space" (1999). In "Finding Forrester" (2000), he was a professor who accuses a 16-year-old aspiring writer (Rob Brown) of plagiarism, triggering a spirited defense from a reclusive novelist (Sean Connery). Following the poorly received horror movie, "Thir13en Ghosts" (2001) and the little-seen religious drama "Joshua" (2002), Abraham starred as the Viceroy of Peru in the foreign-made historical drama, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" (2005). In 2007, Murray was a frequent narrator on the acclaimed wildlife series, "Nature" (PBS, 1982- ), while starring in a pair of made-for-Syfy movies, "Blood Monkey" (2007) and "Shark Swim" (2008). At this time, he began appearing on several notable television series, playing the angel Michael on "Saving Grace" (TNT, 2007-2010) and the doctor father of Det. Zack Nichols (Jeff Goldblum) on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (NBC/USA Network, 2001-2011). After taking comedic turns in episodes of "Bored to Death" (HBO, 2009-2011) and "Louie" (FX, 2010-15), Abraham returned to drama with guest starring turns on "The Good Wife" (CBS, 2009-16) and "Blue Bloods" (CBS, 2010- ) before tackling a major supporting role on the espionage drama "Homeland" (Showtime 2011- ). Back on the big screen, Abraham had a key cameo role as Chicago club owner Bud Grossman in Joel and Ethan Coen's 1961 period piece "Inside Llewyn Davis" (2013).

By Shawn Dwyer

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