Actor Louis Zorich, South Side native and husband of Olympia Dukakis, dead at 93
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Louis Zorich, a busy stage actor who was probably best-known for playing Burt Buchman, the father of Paul Reiser on the TV sitcom “Mad About You,” has died at 93.
The Tony-nominated South Side native, who studied at Lindblom High School, Roosevelt University and the Goodman School of Drama, was the longtime husband of actress Olympia Dukakis and also the uncle of former Chicago Bears player Chris Zorich.
His son Peter announced Wednesday on Facebook that Mr. Zorich had died in his sleep.
“Believe me when I say there has never been a more joyful and delicious human being to see every morning when you show up for work,” Reiser said on Twitter. “Louis had the heartiest laugh and the biggest heart.”
Reiser’s co-star Helen Hunt, also on Twitter, called the actor “a treasure!!!!!! Louis Zorich was a world class actor. I saw him do Chekhov and I saw him play the Pirate King in a senior citizen production in one of the funniest #madaboutyou episodes ever.”
In a 2010 appearance at an AARP gathering in Orlando, Mr. Zorich and his wife talked about the reason for their lengthy marriage.
“When we first got together. . . .we didn’t read books about it,” he said. “We just said to ourselves that, one to the other, that I’m there for you, and you’re there for me. If she wanted to go to Hollywood and do a movie, I says do it. If I want to go away on Broadway, you go do it.”
Dukakis said, “We know that that’s been the glue.”
In 1989, she told an interviewer, “When the kids were young, I limited my career. It was my husband who urged me to continue.”
They were in the news together in 1988 when a thief stole the “Best Supporting Actress” Oscar she’d won for “Moonstruck” from their Montclair, New Jersey, home.
Mr. Zorich and his wife helped found New Jersey’s Whole Theater company.
He wrote a book about auditioning — “What Have You Done?” In it, he singled out his teachers at the Goodman School of Drama, Dr. Bella Itkin and Joe Slowik, “for believing in me.”
His sister Helen Cochand said they grew up near 63rd and Marshfield, the children of Christ and Anna Zorich, immigrants from what was then Yugoslavia. Their father was a school stationary engineer. The Zoriches belonged to a Croatian parish, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at 60th and Marshfield, and they enjoyed going to Croatian picnics.
Young Louis attended Earle grade school. To make money, he sold ice cream from a pedal cart. He left high school before graduation to study acting.
“Whatever he wanted to do, he could do,” his sister said. “He had a great voice.”
At 18, he joined the Army, serving at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, Dukakis wrote in her autobiography, “Ask Me Again Tomorrow.” After coming back home, he studied acting on the G.I. bill, knocking around and performing with Ed Asner and Mike Nichols. He received good notices in 1957 for playing Estragon to Harvey Korman’s Vladimir at “Waiting for Godot” at the Studebaker Theater.
Dukakis described her stentorian-voiced husband as “the most stunning man I’d ever seen” when they met as young actors at a New York audition in 1962. They married the following year, using a “98-cent ring from Woolworth’s,” according to an interview they did with People magazine.
In the early 1960s, he appeared on Broadway in “Becket” with two formidable stage presences: Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn.
Mr. Zorich was nominated for a Tony Award in 1969 for his featured role as Cardinal Ragna in “Hadrian VII.”
In 1984, he played Uncle Ben in “Death of a Salesman” featuring Dustin Hoffman.
The following year, he starred with Glenne Headly, Kevin Kline and Raul Julia in a revival of “Arms and the Man.”
In the movies, he was the constable in “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1971. He played a Greek restaurant owner in 1984’s “The Muppets Take Manhattan” and a Greek millionaire in 1988’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” He was the sleazy Mayor Baci in John Sayles’ “City of Hope” in 1991. And he and his wife starred as a couple in 2015’s “Emily and Tim.”
On TV, he had roles on “Route 66,” “Kojak,” “Law and Order” and as a detective in the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope.” He also costarred opposite Marion Ross in “Brooklyn Bridge” from 1991 to 1993.
In addition to his wife, son and sister, Mr. Zorich is also survived by a daughter, Christina, and another son, Stefan.