From Eddie Copeland, I learn with great sadness that character actor Robert Prosky has died at the age of 77. Prosky, an accomplished performer with a long list of stage, screen and small-screen credits on his resume, is probably best known for his work as Sergeant Stan Jablonski on Hill Street Blues, a role created when actor Michael Conrad (who played Sergeant Phil Esterhaus) passed away in 1983.
Prosky had incredible huge shoes to fill in replacing Conrad’s Esterhaus…and to be perfectly frank (not Furillo, of course) I think the Jablonski character (this is nothing against Prosky, whose acting was solid) fell incredibly short. Part of this had to do with the fact that Blues’ writers abandoned Esterhaus’ catchphrase “Let’s be careful out there” in favor of Jablonski’s more fascistic “Let’s do it to them before they do it to us.” A tough call to make, to be certain…but I think they would have been better off if they had just abandoned it altogether.
In addition to Hill Street, Prosky logged in quite a bit of TV time, playing Kirstie Alley’s father in a notable Cheers episode…and the not-so-notable Veronica’s Closet (his character was written out after the first season). Prosky's other TV credits include The Practice, Murder, She Wrote, Touched By an Angel and ER. My favorite Prosky performance, however, remains a guest appearance on Frasier in the episode “A Cranes’ Critique” (10/22/86); he played T.H. Houghton, a reclusive author (shades of Salinger or Pynchon) who Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) literally fall over one another trying to make his acquaintance…but Houghton is more comfortable bonding with Martin (John Mahoney) instead.
Among his memorable movie appearances: Thief (1981; his feature film debut), Broadcast News (1987), Outrageous Fortune (1987), Gremlins2: The New Batch (1990; as “Grandpa Fred,” a TV horror-movie host) and my personal favorite, Dead Man Walking (1995), in which he plays the doggedly determined lawyer of mad-dog killer Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn). (He was also, for better or worse, in the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street—playing Judge Henry Harper, the part that Gene Lockhart essayed in the 1947 original.) On a more personal note, Prosky gave an incredible performance as “Bear,” the mentor to David Keith in the 1983 cult favorite The Lords of Discipline (based on the Pat Conroy novel) that my paisan Jeff Lane and I saw in Huntington six times (and possibly more) in the spring of that year.
R.I.P., Robert. You will be missed.
Correction: My first draft of this had Prosky's age as 78 upon his passing but he was actually 77. I have made the necessary corrections.