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Edward Albert, 55; Actor Starred in Film `Butterflies Are Free'

September 27, 2006|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Edward Albert, the actor-son of the late screen veteran Eddie Albert who first gained fame co-starring with Goldie Hawn in the 1970s film "Butterflies Are Free" and later became an outspoken environmental activist, has died. He was 55.

Albert, who served on the California Coastal Commission, died Friday in his sleep at his home in Malibu after a battle with lung cancer, said his family. He was surrounded by his immediate family and a few close friends, including a Chumash medicine woman, who performed a traditional ceremony.

As the only son of Eddie Albert -- the twice Oscar-nominated supporting actor who starred in the popular 1960s television sitcom "Green Acres" -- and actress Margo Albert, Edward Alpert once said, "I always knew I would act. It was just a matter of time."

He made his film debut at 13, playing a runaway who encounters a disturbed Civil War veteran played by Anthony Perkins in the 1965 drama "The Fool Killer."

Albert had attended Oxford University and was studying psychology at UCLA when he was signed to co-star in "Butterflies Are Free," the 1972 comedy-romance in which he played a young blind man trying to break free from his overly protective mother.

"Young Albert," The Times' movie critic Charles Champlin wrote in his review of the film, "has the intelligence and the ingratiating openness that the part calls for and it seemed to me that he brought off very well indeed the harder-than-it-looks job of playing a boy blind from birth."

The role, for which he prepared by studying at the Braille Institute and walking around town blindfolded, earned Albert a Golden Globe as most promising male newcomer.

He went on to star opposite Liv Ullmann in the 1973 comedy "40 Carats."

Over the next three decades, he appeared in more than 120 movies and television productions, including the films "Midway," "The Greek Tycoon," "The Ice Runner" and "Guarding Tess." His many TV credits include appearances on "Falcon Crest," "Dr. Quinn, Medicine "Woman" and "Port Charles."

In 2003, Albert co-starred in "Cesar and Ruben," a musical about the life of United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez written and directed by actor-activist Ed Begley Jr., at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood.

"His performance was the highlight of the show," Begley told The Times on Tuesday. "He played the villain of the piece and was extraordinary, singing and dancing and playing the bad guy. I've been a fan of his since 'Butterflies Are Free'; he was a wonderful actor."

Like his father, Albert divided his time between acting and activism.

In recent years, he served on both the California Coastal Commission and the state's Native American Heritage Commission.

Albert, who lived on a ranch in Malibu for 30 years, had "a deep love for the ocean, mountains and canyons, as well as the Chumash native culture of his area," his family said.

For his leadership role in the preservation of Escondido Canyon, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy named the area the Edward Albert Escondido Trail and Waterfalls in his honor several months ago.

Protecting the environment, said Begley, a fellow conservancy board member, was "a big part of his life," as were "the culture and rights of native American peoples."

Larry Myers, executive secretary of the Native American Heritage Commission, told The Times on Tuesday: "He had a very sincere and deep love and appreciation for Indian people.

"He honored and respected Indian spiritual beliefs and was very active in protecting burial and sacred sites in Malibu."

Albert also worked closely with Plaza de la Raza, the multidisciplinary cultural arts center in Lincoln Heights that was co-founded by his mother, who was born in Mexico City and died in 1985.

Albert was born in Los Angeles on Feb. 20, 1951. His middle name, Laurence, came from family friend Laurence Olivier, who was his godfather.

Albert, a songwriter, musician, stone carver and photographer, gained an appreciation for music, theater and the arts while growing up in his tight-knit family.

"If I wasn't Eddie Albert's son, I'd be someone else's," Albert joked in a 1972 interview with The Times. "It gave me a chance to do a lot of traveling, but mostly I'm glad I'm his son because he's such a good man."

Albert devoted the last decade of his life caring for his father, who had Alzheimer's disease and died in 2005 at age 99.

Albert is survived by his wife, actress Kate Woodville; their daughter, Thais, a singer-songwriter for the rock band Sugar in Wartime; and his sister, Maria Zucht.

A memorial service is pending.

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dennis.mclellan @latimes.com

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