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R.I.P. Seymour Cassel, character actor from John Cassavetes and Wes Anderson movies

Photo: Michael Buckner (Getty Images)

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Oscar-nominated actor Seymour Cassel—a fixture of John Cassavetes movies like Faces and Minnie And Moskowitz—has died due to “complications from Alzheimer’s disease.” Cassel, who made his career as a character actor playing lovable rascals, was also a regular player in Wes Anderson movies, most notably in a memorable role as Gene Hackman’s character’s friend Dusty in The Royal Tenenbaums. Cassel was 84.

Though he was born in Detroit in 1935, Cassel was raised in New York and lived above a nightclub that THR says his stepfather claimed to have won in a craps game. After leaving the Navy, he took some acting lessons and met John Cassavetes, who agreed to let him hang out and watch a movie he was making. Apparently unprompted, Cassel just started helping out the crew and worked with them all night, and the next day he asked Cassavetes if he could come back and keep working. That movie was Shadows, Cassavetes 1959 directorial debut, and—in a move that’s true to the improvisational, independent spirit that would later define his filmmaking style—he not only agreed to let Cassel keep working on set but he even gave him an uncredited role in the movie.

This kicked off a lifelong friendship for the two of them, with Cassavetes finding a spot for Cassel in movies like Too Late Blues, The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, and Faces, which earned Cassel a supporting actor Oscar nomination. Cassavetes also specifically wrote the character Seymour Moskowitz in Minnie And Moskowitz for Cassel. Cassavetes died in 1989, with Cassel referring to him as “the best friend I ever had.”

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Outside of his work with Cassavetes, Cassel appeared in Coogan’s Bluff, The Last Tycoon, Valentino and California Dreaming. In the early ‘80s, he was arrested for possession and intention to distribute cocaine, with Alexandre Rockwell giving him a role in In The Soup when he entered rehab. Rockwell introduced him to Wes Anderson after that, with Anderson putting Cassel in the aforementioned Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. He also appeared in White Fang, Dick Tracy, 61*, Stuck On You, and Beer League.

Finally, in the sort of detail that is only believable when paired with a guy like Seymour Cassel, THR says he’s even credited with coining guitarist Slash’s nickname. Slash (whose real name is Saul Hudson) is friends with Cassel’s son, and he says it was because of the way he was “always scheming, always hustling.” Cassel is survived by three children, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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