Daniel Von Bargen—a character actor who was frequently used to play cops, military men, and other authority figures, yet was best known for turning that on its head with comedic roles in Seinfeld and Malcolm In The Middle—has died. Von Bargen’s death was attributed to a “lengthy illness,” with no other details revealed, though his long struggle with diabetes became tragically public in 2012 when he shot himself in the temple in a failed suicide attempt. In a 911 call that was released, Von Bargen told the operator that he was distraught over having already lost one leg to the disease and didn’t want to go to surgery to have two more toes removed. Von Bargen died at the age of 64.
In happier times, Von Bargen played Seinfeld’s Mr. Kruger, George’s lazy, indifferent, childlike boss at Kruger Industrial Smoothing, where he was more concerned with doling out nicknames to his employees, laughing it up at board meetings, and seeing how many times he could spin around in his chair than doing any actual work. Von Bargen gave Kruger an impish, “whatever” attitude that served as inspiration to anyone who’s ever toiled at an office, accidentally locked themselves out of it, then said, “Well, I’m going home.”
He was far more disciplined as Malcolm’s Commandant Edwin Spangler, commander of the group of military school cadets that included the oldest brother Francis. Arrayed with an eye-patch, a hook for a hand, and various other missing body parts, Von Bargen cut an intimidating yet just as ludicrous figure, and displayed his full talent for playing bullies.
Other memorable Von Bargen roles included the villainous sorcerer Nix in Clive Barker’s Lord Of Illusions; Police Chief Grady, the antagonist of Super Troopers; and two different sheriffs—one in Kevin Costner’s notorious flop The Postman, and the other, the sunglasses-wearing specter who hunts George Clooney et al. throughout the Coen Bros.’ O Brother Where Art Thou?
He also played various soldiers, detectives, FBI agents, judges, and the like in The Silence Of The Lambs, The West Wing, Amistad, Broken Arrow, I.Q., The Majestic, Law And Order, Judging Amy, Ally McBeal, the remake of Shaft, Universal Soldier: The Return, G.I. Jane, NYPD Blue, Thinner, Truman, Six Degrees Of Separation, and Basic Instinct.
He served as the jury foreman in Tom Hanks’ trial of Philadelphia, played the father to a possibly murdered fisherman in Snow Falling On Cedars, and he was one of the first teachers possessed in The Faculty. He played a resistance fighter in RoboCop 3, the Russian rebel who nearly launches a nuclear war in Crimson Tide, and an extreme right-wing militiaman on The X-Files. In all, he had a prolific career that extended more than 30 years, beginning with his first appearances on soap operas in the 1970s, and enjoyed many distinguished turns in repertory theater and on Broadway. Von Bargen was last seen on screen in the 2009 comedy London Betty, but lives on in the eternity of Seinfeld reruns.