Robert Forster, a beloved actor whose career stretched from the 1960s to today, died on Friday after a battle with brain cancer at age 78, his publicist told The Hollywood Reporter. His death came just hours after his final performance, featured in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, was released on Netflix. Forster also made a final appearance in Last Man Standing last year, playing the father of Tim Allen's character.
Forster's career was one of Hollywood's great comeback stories. After years of obscurity, Quentin Tarantino directed him to an Oscar-nominated performance in 1997's Jackie Brown. Filmmaker David Lynch also played a role, casting him as a detective in Mulholland Drive. He worked with Lynch again in 2017, playing Sheriff Frank Truman in Showtime's Twin Peaks revival.
Born in July 13, 1941, in Rochester, New York, Forster made his film debut in John Huston's idiosyncratic 1967 film Reflections in a Golden Eye, co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. He made a handful of more films before the end of the decade, including Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool, a film about the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Despite his rugged good looks, Foster struggled for years to find a break-out role. He even worked for Disney, starring in the box office bomb The Black Hole in 1979. He languished in short-lived television roles and low-budget movies until the late 1990s when a new generation of directors revived his career.
"I went 21 months without a job,” Forster told the Chicago Tribune of his low years. “I had four kids, I took any job I could get. My career went like this for five years... and then like that for 27. Every time it reached a lower level I thought I could tolerate, it dropped some more, and then some more. Near the end I had no agent, no manager, no lawyer, no nothing. I was taking whatever fell thru the cracks.”
Tarantino cast him in Jackie Brown, an Elmore Leonard-inspired film starring Pam Grier in the title role. Although it helped Grier be introduced to a new audience and earned her a slew of award nominations, Forster ended up being the sole performer to earn an Oscar nomination for the film thanks to his role as bail bondsman Max Cherry.
Tarantino even tried to work with Forster years before Jackie Brown. Forster auditioned for a part in Tarantino's first feature, 1992's Reservoir Dogs, but he cast Lawrence Tierney. Years later, when he was writing Jackie Brown, he wrote Max just for Forster.
In a 2011 interview with IndieWire, Forster said he did not think Tarantino's producers would let him cast him, since his career was at such a low point. Tarantino assured him that after Pulp Fiction, he could cast anyone he wanted.
"Here was a guy who liked me when he was growing up, who decided he was going to put me back to work, and he has given me a huge, huge gift," Forster said. "And these last 14 years have been filled with the fruits of that gift. So if you start out with great material and a guy who takes care of you on the set, and then in post, and even after, and here we are. I’m still alive, and it’s been a great run."
After Jackie Brown, Forster's career was suddenly back on track. He worked with Gus Van Sant on the 1998 Psycho remake, teamed up with Lynch on Mulholland Drive, and joined George Clooney in Alexander Payne's The Descendants. His other credits included Firewall, Me, Myself and Irene, Lucky Number Slevin and Olympus Has Fallen.
Forster never stopped working. This year, he appeared in Greg Kinnear's Phil and played Ed in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, reprising his role from the episode "Granite State." Last year, he appeared in four movies, including What They Had with Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon.
For another audience, Forster was Bud Baxter, the father of Allen's Mike Baxter, on Last Man Standing. When the show returned for a seventh season on Fox last year, he reprised the role as a ghost in the poignant "Man vs. Myth" episode.
Forster is survived by his third wife, Evie, and children Elizabeth, Katherine, Maeghen and Robert.
"I guess I learned somewhere along that long, long 25 or 27-year descent that you’ve just got to make the best of what you’ve got, and deliver the best you’ve got under whatever circumstances there are," Forster told IndieWire in 2011. "And once you realize that that is the circumstance of every human life, that the great leveler, the great evener is that with whatever you’ve got you can create your best thing. In any given moment, you can deliver your very best moment, and when you do, you get that reward that people tell you you’re going to get when you deliver your excellent best to this moment – you get the reward of self-respect and satisfaction."
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