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Veteran Stage, Film Actor Ben Gazzara Dies At 81

Ben Gazzara has died at the age of 81. The actor known for his brooding tough-guy presence died Friday at a hospital in New York. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

Gazzara appeared in dozens of films, television shows and stage productions over his long career. On the TV show Run For Your Life, which ran for three season in the 1960s, Ben Gazara starred as a lawyer diagnosed with a terminal illness.

He is remembered as a powerful actor, who appeared in the original Broadway production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. He acted on Broadway regularly over the course of 50 years, garnering three Tony nominations for his work on stage.

Gazzara made his big break into film with his role as an accused killer in Otto Preminger's 1959 courtroom drama Anatomy of a Murder.

The son of an Italian brick layer, Gazarra studied acting first at a Boys and Girls Club in Manhattan, then at the famed Actors Studio with Lee Strasberg. Film buffs may remember him most fondly as a regular presence in films directed by his friend John Cassavetes.

-- with reporting by NPR's Neda Ulaby.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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