Louis Zorich, a veteran actor and longtime Montclair resident best-known for his role as Paul Reiser’s father on the TV series “Mad About You,” died Tuesday at 93.
Mr. Zorich’s death was announced on Facebook Wednesday morning, Jan 31. by his son, Peter, also a Montclair resident.
Mr. Zorich was born Feb. 12, 1924, one of six children of immigrants from Croatia. He grew up in the Great Depression on Chicago’s South Side. His burgeoning interest in art, music and theater found early inspiration in the Dick Tracy and Joe Palooka comic strips, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies and Verdi operas. Mr. Zorich served in a platoon of engineering firefighters attached to Gen. George Patton’s 5th Army in World War II, taking him through England, France and Germany.
Upon return, he attended Roosevelt College on the G.I. Bill. An inside tip and fateful bet on a horse named Cherokee Pilot paid his way at the Goodman School of Drama. When he left drama school, Mr. Zorich never had to take on a non-acting job, one of several facts of his life that led him to describe his path as “beating the odds.” His six-decades-long acting career took him to stage and screen. Some of his most memorable performances include “Death of a Salesman,” “She Loves Me,” “The Odd Couple,” “Henry IV” (Parts I and II), “City of Hope,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Coogan’s Bluff,” “Muppets Take Manhattan,” “Brooklyn Bridge” and “Mad About You,” among hundreds of theatrical and television appearances.
Mr. Zorich and his wife, Olympia Dukakis, were founding members of the Whole Theatre in Montclair, an award-winning company that thrived for nearly 20 years. Together, they helped build a community of artists and families that remained an integral part of their lives. In their house at 222 Upper Mountain Ave., they raised their children, Christina, Peter, and Stefan. When Mr. Zorich wasn’t working, he could normally be found holding court at the kitchen table with whichever random visitor happened to wander in, as they often did.
No matter the iconic characters Louis played, from Uncle Ben to Falstaff to King Lear, he was also a larger-than-life character offstage. His thunderous voice could shake the room with his laughter and frequent use of colorful language. His penchant for storytelling led him to author two books, “What Have You Done?”, an anthology of audition stories collected from many of his colleagues, and his memoir, “Beating the Odds.” His desk and dining table held piles of writing projects and crossword puzzles. Mr. Zorich described his artistic process as more intuitive than intellectual. Although he acted with great technical skill and preparation, he discovered how the subconscious plays into acting, how he drew deeply from life experiences. Perhaps because he valued such stories, he knew how to be present with others, offering his undivided attention and curiosity to any individual, no matter their stature. For his family and friends, Mr. Zorich ’s life story is one of great learning, love and empowering laughter. His life was truly a portrait of an artist, humbled and heartened by the human condition. What he offered in the theater of life was an awe-inspiring level of humanity, dedication, incredible humility, kindness and generosity of spirit.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Olympia; his sister, Helen; his children, Christina, Peter, and Stefan; and his grandchildren, Isabella, Sofia, Luka and Erlinda.