Veteran Character Actor Dies — You May Not Know His Name, but You’ll Probably Know His Face

Jan 6, 2012  •  Post A Comment

A prolific character actor with a string of film credits including "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" and "The Hustler" has died, The New York Times reports. William Duell, 88, died Dec. 22 at his home in Manhattan.

Duell, who played Johnny the snitch in the Leslie Nielsen TV comedy "Police Squad!," died of respiratory failure. He had a Shakespearean background and performed often on Broadway.

Duell was was born Aug. 30, 1923, in Corinth, N.Y. He was a diminutive man, just five feet tall and about 140 pounds, with an odd appearance that contributed to the roles he played. In 1969, he originated the role of McNair, the congressional custodian, on Broadway in "1776," a part he repeated in the feature film in 1972.

Nathan Lane, who co-starred with Duell in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" on Broadway in 1996, said of Duell: "The audience adored him. The first time around he’d get a huge laugh. The second time he’d get a huge laugh. The third time, he’d just hold up his fingers — and it brought the house down.”

Duell’s TV work included appearances on “Law & Order,” “Guiding Light” and “Ed.” On the big screen he had parts in “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” “Ironweed,” “Funny Farm,” “Airplane!” and many other films.

william-duell.jpgWilliam Duell

One Comment

  1. Elaboration of Nathan Lane’s truncated quote, for those who don’t know the show: Duell’s character (Buster Keaton in the movie, so you can picture the physicality) is required to run around the seven hills of Rome seven times because … well, the musical is farce comedy, so don’t worry about the because. But it’s funny.

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