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A Life and Death in Hollywood : Acting: David Rappaport was trapped by his mind.

May 09, 1990|SHARON BERNSTEIN

David Rappaport was as determined to die as he had been to live.

His mind--that well-schooled repository of British university education, of years of teaching and writing and musicianship and acting--had of late refused to turn itself off. The thoughts, said his cousin and manager, Frankie Leigh, kept coming like a record stuck on a turntable, ideas twisting through his brain and keeping him up night after night.

His cousin considered, then rejected, theory after theory: Perhaps his thoughts were telling him--falsely--that the woman he was about to marry might one day leave, unable to love a dwarf who might not always be the toast of Hollywood. Perhaps they told him that despite enormous success, he was still trapped--as trapped as the dwarf he had seen years earlier, caged in an English asylum for mentally retarded children.

Or possibly, in the way that mind-records have, they exaggerated recent stops and starts in his career until it seemed that all he had worked for, all he had done to escape invisibility, was gone or going.

Frankie Leigh doesn't understand it.

He tried once before to kill himself, two weeks before his planned wedding day last March. He parked his car on a hidden stretch of road and ran a garden hose from the exhaust pipe to the interior. He passed out, but somebody found him.

After that, he swore to Leigh that he would never try again, that he would learn how to share his pain with others and take off the happy mask of one who had no problems.

But soon after his release from the hospital, Rappaport bought a gun and hid it away.

And on Tuesday, May 1, the day of his son's 14th birthday, he slipped out of the house and drove up through the hills to a Laurel Canyon park.

According to Leigh, Rappaport went to one of his favorite spots. He said hello to people on the path and passed the man and his dog who would later find him. Deep in the park, Rappaport chose a bramble-covered spot on the hillside.

He climbed through the brush, said Leigh, and in a small clearing laid himself to rest on his back, facing the treetops.

Leigh imagines Rappaport looking at the green foliage and the uncommonly blue sky, and speaking in his heart to Adonai, the Jewish God he loved so much. He might have whispered a prayer for himself and his loved ones, a Kaddish, the prayer of life that is used in times of death.

Then David Rappaport pulled up his pistol, pointed it downward at his chest, and shot himself through the heart. His funeral was held Tuesday in London.

"I didn't have a clue that he was depressed," said Marsha Goodman, who worked with Rappaport on the upcoming DIC Enterprises animated series, "Captain Planet," for which he played the voice of a robot. "I guess he's a very good actor because we never saw that pain in his work at all. He was always telling us about all these projects in the works, scripts he was writing. He was engaged and he was planning to get married and he was so happy."

Hollywood had been unusually kind to Rappaport. He was the first dwarf ever to star in his own television series, CBS' "The Wizard," and until recently had been a regular guest star on "L.A. Law."

He was to begin shooting in September on a movie that had been a dream project for more than three years, Carol Ann Cline's "The Poet," the story of a dwarf poet in a Welsh village.

Rappaport first became known in this country when he starred in the 1981 movie, "Time Bandits." A supporting role in "The Bride," a remake of "Frankenstein" starring Jennifer Beals and Sting, landed him solidly in Hollywood.

And in the kaleidoscope of fast times that mark the lives of many in the film business, the fact that Rappaport did everything with lightening speed and unbridled passion didn't seem unusual. He fit right in.

"He was wild," said actor Doug Barr, who co-starred opposite Rappaport on "The Wizard." "He went out all the time. He liked to go to clubs, go dancing.

"He was a cappuccino freak. He drank cappuccino all day long. (On "The Wizard,") he made the prop guys install a cappuccino machine in his dressing room."

He was born David Stephen Rappaport in 1952, the son of Orthodox Jews living in the working class borough of Islington in North London.

His parents made a gentle home in a hard area. There, among the street vendors and laborers who peopled that part of London, Dinah and Mark Rappaport held weekly Sabbath dinners, attended each Friday by grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.

The elder Rappaports instilled in David a reverence for Jewish ritual and culture which he later said helped him understand and live within his stunted body.

The Rappaports taught their two sons that life was to be approached with vigor.

Mark Rappaport, who worked as a taxi driver and in the garment industry while David was growing up, lived his own philosophy: at the age of 50 he went to university, and became a teacher.

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