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Peter Boyle, 71; father on `Raymond'

December 14, 2006|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Peter Boyle, who made an indelible mark in comedy by donning a top hat and tails and performing "Puttin' on the Ritz" as the hulking monster in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" and later gained his most enduring fame as the scrappy father on the popular sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," has died. He was 71.

Boyle, who also was a critically acclaimed dramatic actor, died Tuesday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital after a battle with multiple myeloma and heart disease, said his publicist, Jennifer Plante.

From 1996 to 2005, Boyle played the hilariously obnoxious Frank Barone opposite Doris Roberts' Marie Barone, Ray Romano's bickering and overbearing parents in "Everybody Loves Raymond" -- a role for which he received seven Emmy nominations.

Having spent nine years playing opposite Boyle on the CBS series, Roberts said in a statement Wednesday, "it's like losing a spouse."

"I'm going to miss my dear friend, so unlike the character he played on television," Roberts said. "He's a brilliant actor, a gentleman, incredibly intelligent, wonderfully well read and a loving friend."

Romano said in a statement that he knew no one when he came to Los Angeles to do "Everybody Loves Raymond."

"Peter immediately took me under his wing and became my friend and mentor," he said. "He gave me great advice, he always made me laugh, and the way he connected with everyone around him amazed me."

In a 1999 interview with The Times, Boyle said he found playing his character in the series "very gratifying."

"[Fans say] 'You're just like my father,' " he said. The Barones "are people you know and the way people really are on the other side of the TV set -- not behind the TV set, but in front of it."

Equally at home in comedy and drama, Boyle appeared in dozens of films, including playing Robert Redford's campaign manager in "The Candidate," Robert De Niro's fellow cab driver "Wizard" in "Taxi Driver," and Billy Bob Thornton's racist father in "Monster's Ball."

Of his role in "Taxi Driver," critic Pauline Kael wrote that Boyle "does slobby wonders with his scenes as the gently thick Wizard; Boyle gives the film a special New York-hack ambience."

Boyle, who won his only Emmy -- in 1996 for a guest appearance on "The X Files" -- also played Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1977 TV movie "Tail Gunner Joe" (for which he earned an Emmy nomination) and Sgt. "Fatso" Judson in the 1979 miniseries "From Here to Eternity."

He also starred as a veteran New York cop in the short-lived 1986 series "Joe Bash."

"When I was in high school I wanted to be a leading man guy, like Howard Keel," Boyle told the Associated Press in 2001. "But then God saw fit to take the hair off my head at age 24."

Boyle had his breakthrough movie role playing the title character in the unexpected hit "Joe," a 1970 drama in which he delivered a chilling performance as a murderously bigoted hard-hat from Queens.

After his critical success in "Joe," Boyle feared being typecast in similarly violent roles and turned down the starring role of Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle in the 1971 movie "The French Connection."

"I got bad advice," he told Entertainment Weekly in 2001. "Look, Gene Hackman was brilliant, so what can you say?"

Boyle's concerns about being typecast were blown away with his performance as the monster in Brooks' hit 1974 horror-movie spoof "Young Frankenstein," starring Gene Wilder. As the monster, critic Roger Ebert wrote, Boyle "somehow manages to be hilarious and pathetic at the same time."

"I was greatly saddened by the news" of Boyle's death, Brooks said in a statement Wednesday. "I will always cherish [his] remarkable performance as the monster in 'Young Frankenstein.' "

"I don't know how you breathe human life into a monster, but he did -- and in a humorous way," Teri Garr, who played Inga in the film, told The Times on Wednesday. "He had that quality in his face; he could be mean and also warm and fabulous."

Recalling Boyle mumbling his line in "Puttin' on the Ritz" during the monster's song-and-dance number, Garr said: "He mumbled it in such a way it broke your heart, [the monster] was trying so hard" to sing.

While making "Young Frankenstein," Boyle met Rolling Stone magazine reporter Loraine Alterman, who was writing an article on Brooks. Through Alterman, a friend of Yoko Ono, Boyle met John Lennon, who served as best man when he and Alterman were married in 1977.

Boyle was born Oct. 18, 1935, in Norristown, Pa., and later moved to Philadelphia, where his father became a popular television show host in the 1950s known as "Uncle Pete" and "Chuckwagon Pete."

Boyle attended a Catholic high school and joined the Christian Brothers while attending what is now La Salle University in Philadelphia.

"I went through that adolescent crisis where you either jump into the river or jump into spirituality," Boyle told the New York Times in 2001. "I felt the call for a while; then I felt the normal pull of the world and the flesh."

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