Steven Hill, the veteran TV actor best known for playing District Attorney Adam Schiff on Law & Order, has died, The New York Times reports. He was 94.
Hill was born Solomon Krakovsky in 1922 to Russian immigrant parents. The Seattle native graduated from the University Of Washington, and served four years in the U.S. Naval Reserve before moving to Chicago to work in radio. But he soon heard the call of New York City and the Great White Way, making his Broadway debut in 1946 in Ben Hecht’s A Flag Is Born. By 1948, he was appearing with Henry Fonda in the Tony Award-winning Mr. Roberts. And in 1950, he appeared in the Hedy Lamarr-led A Lady Without A Passport.
Four episodes of Actors Studio served as Hill’s entry to TV, where he eventually set up a decades-long residency. Hill had many guest spots in series like Playhouse 90, The Untouchables, and The Fugitive before moving on to become a regular in Bruce Geller’s Mission: Impossible in 1966. Hill played Dan Briggs, the IMF team’s leader, for the first season of the series.
The role was recast for season two, after the filming schedule proved too difficult to wrangle—as an Orthodox Jew, Hill was unable to work on the Sabbath, a fact that he made clear when he signed on to the show. The producers attempted to write around Hill’s schedule, but ultimately replaced him with Peter Graves.
After this experience, Hill decided to take a break from acting, during which time he dabbled in real estate. But by the ’80s, he had returned to the industry, with roles in It’s My Turn; George Cukor’s adaptation of Rich And Famous; Yentl, with Barbra Streisand and Mandy Patinkin; Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs; and 1988’s Running On Empty, starring River Phoenix, Judd Hirsch, and Christine Lahti.
But it was in 1990 that Hill nabbed his most memorable role, in Dick Wolf’s Law & Order flagship series. Hill’s tenure lasted for ten seasons, during which time he co-starred with Michael Moriarty and Richard Brooks, as well as fellow L&O stalwarts Sam Waterston, S. Epatha Merkerson, and the late Jerry Orbach. As District Attorney Adam Schiff, Hill spoke softly but rarely needed to carry a big stick.
As Schiff, Hill exuded a certain world-weariness that served him and the series especially well with the rotating cast of Executive and Assistant District Attorneys. Wolf himself was grateful for Hill’s “Talmudic influence on the entire zeitgeist of the series.” The showrunner once told The Washington Post that “Steven has more moral authority than anyone else on episodic TV.”
Hill’s last acting appearance was on Law & Order in 2000. He is survived by his wife Rachel and several children.