Though he originally aspired to work for the State Department, actor Ron Silver eventually succumbed to his college ambition of becoming a performer. First making a name for himself off-Broadway, Silver eventually transitioned to the small screen, where he made regular appearances on several short-lived sitcoms and acclaimed made-for-television movies. He began to rise to prominence through his work in features, including "Silent Rage" (1982) and "Silkwood" (1983). But it was his stage work that helped make Silver a star, which culminated in a Tony-winning performance in David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow" (1988). Silver built a successful film and television career off his win, including a well-regarded turn as attorney Alan Dershowitz in "Reversal of Fortune" (1990). Though he continued to rack up an impressive array of credits, Silver was never a top box office draw, despite his immeasurable talents in both comedy and as over-the-top villains in movies like "Blue Steel" (1991) and "Timecop" (1994). Silver saved his best work for television, making valuable contributions to "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006) and proving that he was capable of turning in top-notch performances in any medium he chose.
Born on July 2, 1946 in New York, NY, Silver was raised one of three sons by his father, Irving, a clothing salesman and briefly a song plugger for Irving Berlin, and his mother, Mae, a school teacher. Silver graduated Stuyvesant High School in 1963 and later attended State University of New York, Buffalo, where he studied Spanish and Chinese, was president of his fraternity, produced plays with actor Peter Riegert, and met future wife, Lynne Miller, later a contributing editor at SELF magazine, whom he married in 1975. Inspired by the fact that he grew up near the United Nations building, Silver was more inclined to pursue a career in international politics than acting. After furthering his language studies at St. John's University, he attended the Graduate School of International Affairs at Columbia University, while continuing his graduate studies in Spain and Taiwan. He lucked out of the Vietnam War with a student deferment, but traveled throughout Asia on a work-study program.
Though he toyed with the idea of working for the State Department and even the CIA, Silver ultimately steered a different course. He began teaching in Connecticut and half-heartedly engaged in social work, only to indulge his college hobby of acting by taking classes with Herbert Berghoff at HB Studio and Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Once he made his stage debut in 1971, he regularly appeared in off-Broadway productions, including the farce "El Grande de Coca-Cola" (1973). After marrying Miller in 1975, the couple moved to Los Angeles, where he landed a small screen appearance on "The Mac Davis Show" (NBC, 1976). He followed with a regular role on "Rhoda" (CBS, 1974-78) from 1976-78, playing Valerie Harper's sexually repressed neighbor, Gary. For the next decade, Silver appeared in numerous supporting roles on screens both large and small. Once he debuted in his first television movie, "The Return of the World's Greatest Detective" (NBC, 1976), he landed supporting roles in "Murder at the Mardi Gras" (CBS, 1978) and "Betrayal" (NBC, 1978), a dramatization of a 1971 case about a woman who sued her psychiatrist for sexual abuse.
On the feature side, Silver made his film debut in "Tunnelvision" (1976) and had a small role in the action comedy "Semi-Tough" (1977), starring Burt Reynolds. Finding more work on television, Silver made routine appearances on series like "Dear Detective" (CBS, 1979) and "The Stockard Channing Show" (CBS, 1979-1980) - even landing his own show, "Baker's Dozen" (CBS, 1982), though it lasted only a few months before being canceled. More turns on the big screen followed, including "Silent Rage" (1982), "Best Friends" (1982) and "Silkwood" (1983). Back in New York, Silver made his Broadway debut as a replacement in Mike Nichols' production of David Rabe's "Hurlyburly" (1984-85), while maintaining a steady presence on the miniseries "Kane & Abel" (CBS, 1985) and the made-for-television movie "Trapped in Silence" (CBS, 1986). Silver attained stage stardom with a sterling turn as a sleazy film producer opposite Madonna in David Mamet's acclaimed "Speed-the-Plow" (1988), winning both a Drama Desk Award and a Tony for Best Actor in a Play.
Thanks to his on-stage success, Silver was able to make greater strides on screen. He received widespread acclaim for his film performances as a resourceful, womanizing Holocaust survivor in Paul Mazursky's "Enemies, A Love Story" (1989), which he followed by perhaps his best remembered role, playing Alan Dershowitz in "Reversal of Fortune" (1990), Barbet Schroeder's black comedy of manners based on the Von Bulow murder trial. Also that year, Silver displayed his darker side as an oily villain stalking a rookie cop (Jamie Lee Curtis) in the popular, but over-the-top police thriller "Blue Steel" (1990). Following a starring role in "Forgotten Prisoners: The Amnesty Files" (TNT, 1990), Silver attempted a return to the stage with "La Bete" (1991), but left the production due to creative differences. A steady supporting presence, Silver oscillated between feature films like "Mr. Saturday Night" (1992) and "Married to It" (1993), and television movies like "Live Wire" (HBO, 1992), "Blind Side" (NBC, 1993) and "Lifepod" (Fox, 1993), a futuristic sci-fi thriller reinterpreted from Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" (1944) that also marked Silver's debut as a director.
Once again leaving a stage production due to creative differences - this time Arthur Miller's "Broken Glass" (1994), which he left during pre-Broadway tryouts - Silver returned to the big screen to play a corrupt senator in the derivative, but successful sci-fi thriller "Timecop" (1994), starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Following "Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story" (Lifetime, 1995), Silver portrayed former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in "Kissinger and Nixon" (TNT, 1995). From 1995-97, Silver enjoyed a recurring role through two seasons as Christine Lahti's ex-husband on the drama series "Chicago Hope" (CBS, 1994-2000), while appearing in "Skeletons" (HBO, 1996), "Girl 6" (1996), directed by Spike Lee, and the sci-fi thriller "The Arrival" (1996). After appearing in the made-for-television movies "The Beneficiary" (HBO, 1997) and "The White Raven" (HBO, 1998), he had a regular role on the hit sitcom "Veronica's Closet" (NBC, 1997-2000) during the show's second season. Once the new millennium came about, Silver co-starred in numerous made-for-television movies, including "In the Company of Spies" (Showtime, 1999), "Ratz" (Showtime, 2000) and "Cutaway" (USA Network, 2000).
Following a turn as Robert Shapiro, attorney to the acquitted O.J. Simpson (Raymond Forchion) in "American Tragedy" (Fox, 2000), he gave a compelling turn as the chauvinist tennis player Bobby Riggs in "When Billie Beat Bobby" (ABC, 2001). He portrayed yet another historical sports figure, this time boxing trainer Angelo Dundee, in the acclaimed Michael Mann feature, "Ali" (2001). Though Silver had been active in liberal politics for most of his life - he was the cofounder and first president of the advocacy group The Creative Coalition, and served as president of Actors' Equity Association from 1991-2000 - Silver made a dramatic turn to the right following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, becoming a staunch supporter of President George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, his screen career started to wind down, with Silver co-starring in the miniseries "Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story" (CBS, 2002) while making guest-starring appearances on "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-10) and "Crossing Jordan" (NBC, 2001-07).
As he became more vocal and active in conservative politics, Silver attributed his declining appearances on screen to his increased support of Bush. Regardless of whether or not that was the case, Silver landed relatively few roles as time wore on. Prior to parts in "Find Me Guilty" (2006) and "The Ten" (2007), Silver began what appeared to be a career shift, speaking at the 2004 Republican National Convention and becoming chairman of a political action committee run by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. At the same time, he had a well-received recurring role on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006), playing Bruno Gianelli, the campaign manager to re-elect President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), who eventually switches sides to become a consultant for Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda). In February 2008, he began hosting "The Ron Silver Show," a politics and public affairs program on Sirius Satellite Radio. Then with little warning, Silver died on March. 15, 2009 after battling esophageal cancer for two years, a fight he managed to keep out of the public eye. Silver died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by family. He was 62.
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Returned from foreign travels
Made his Off-Broadway debut in "Kasper"
Starred as the impresario in the Off-Broadway spoof, "El Grande de Coca-Cola"
First regular role series role, playing the nerdy, sexually repressed neighbor, Gary Levy, on "Rhoda" (CBS)
Made feature acting debut in "Tunnelvision"
Co-starred on the short-lived CBS sitcom, "The Stockard Channing Show"
Co-starred in the Academy Award-nominated, "Silkwood"; directed by Mike Nichols and starring Meryl Streep
Played the devoted son of Anne Bancroft in Sidney Lumet's "Garbo Talks"
Appeared in Mike Nichols's Broadway production of "Hurlyburly"
Joined Marlo Thomas for the Broadway production of the Mike Nichols directed, "Social Security"
Co-starred in David Mamet's Broadway play, "Speed-the-Plow" opposite Joe Mantegna and Madonna
Cast opposite Jerry Lewis in the 'Garment District Arc' of the CBS crime show, "Wiseguy"
Played a psychopath opposite Jamie Lee Curtis in "Blue Steel"
Gave a well received performance as a Holocaust survivor in Paul Mazursky's Academy Award-nominated, "Enemies: A Love Story"
Portrayed defense attorney Alan Dershowitz in "Reversal of Fortune"; based on the book by Dershowitz about the trial of Claus von Bülow
Featured in Billy Crystal's directorial debut, "Mr. Saturday Night"
Played the villainous Senator Aaron McComb in "Timecop"
Had a recurring role on the CBS medical drama, "Chicago Hope" as Christine Lahti's ex-husband
Played Alec Bilson, business partner and nemesis of Kirstie Alley's Ronnie Chase, in the NBC sitcom, "Veronica's Closet"
Portrayed attorney Robert Shapiro in the CBS miniseries, "American Tragedy"; based on the OJ Simpson trial
Played presidential campaign advisor Bruno Gianelli on the NBC political drama, "The West Wing"; earned an Emmy nomination in 2002
Portrayed Muhammad Ali's boxing cornerman Angelo Dundee, opposite Will Smith as the title character, in Michael Mann's "Ali"
Narrated "FahrenHYPE 9/11," which examines and challenges Michael Moore's documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11" from a conservative point of view
Played a judge in Sidney Lumet's "Find Me Guilty," which depicts the longest criminal trial in U.S. history
Hosted "The Ron Silver Show" on Sirius Satellite Radio