The Passing of David Huddleston

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Image from Vanity Fair

On August 5th, the film industry lost one of its most beloved actors. David Huddleston, known for his roles acting in various comedy films, died at age 85. He had been suffering from advanced heart disease and kidney disease. Huddleston’s acting staple was cult comedies, in which he played powerful men. He is most well known for his role as the mayor in ‘Blazing Saddles’ and, of course, as the iconic real Mr. Lebowski in ‘The Big Lebowski.’ He started acting when he was 4 years old in rural Virginia and has since been in several plays, movies, and television shows.

David Huddleston was born the son of a teacher and a steelworker, into a family who did not have the means to afford electricity or running water. His parents had him performing at such a young age for donations. Thankfully, he loved making people laugh, even as a small child. Before he could fully delve into acting, however, Huddleston found himself attending military academy and serving in the air force as an engine mechanic. With the G.I. Bill, he was able to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and graduated in 1958.

Huddleston began his professional career on Broadway. He transitioned to television, then back to Broadway for a short play, of which critics thought he was the only good part. It was on the stage that the Coen brothers found him and hired him to be a major supporting character in ‘The Big Lebowski.’ It is a comedy/crime film that was released in the late 1990s, and has come to be known as a cult classic. The premise is that Huddleston’s character, the real Mr. Lebowski, is a millionaire with the same name as the broke main character who has a strong affinity for white russians. The goofy film developed a following and, in 2014, was added to the National Film Registry. Through this role, his fame blossomed to a point where people would stop him in the street and ask him to recite his Lebowski lines. He was able to connect to an entirely new, younger audience.

Interestingly enough, however, his roles in these cult comedy movies were not his favorite. When asked what he most enjoyed, he answered that his favorite role was that of Benjamin Franklin on Broadway. He seemed to have a special love for live performance, most likely born out of his time performing as a child. Fittingly, his career ended with a stage production.

David Huddleston was known as a generous, friendly soul who could take any role and inject it with humor and wit. He is survived by his wife and son, the actor Michael Huddleston. While the real Mr. Lebowski may have passed away, his legacy will always live on through his fans, his following, and his memory.

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