Rodney Stephen "Rod" Steiger (April 14, 1925 – July 9, 2002) was an American actor known for his performances in such films as In the Heat of the Night, Waterloo, The Pawnbroker, On the Waterfront, The Harder They Fall and Doctor Zhivago.
Steiger was born in Westhampton, New York, the son of Lorraine (née Driver) and Frederick Steiger, of French, Scottish, and German descent. Steiger was raised as a Lutheran. He never knew his father, a vaudevillian who had been part of a traveling song-and-dance team with Steiger's mother (who subsequently left show business). Steiger grew up with his alcoholic mother before running away from home at age sixteen to join the United States Navy during World War II, where he saw action on destroyers in the Pacific. After the war, he returned to New Jersey and joined a drama group before studying drama full-time under Stella Adler at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York maintained by the influential German director Erwin Piscator.
Steiger began his acting career in theatre and on live television in the early 1950s. On May 24, 1953, an episode of Goodyear Television Playhouse jump-started his career. The episode was the story of Marty written by Paddy Chayefsky. Marty is the story of a lonely homely butcher from the Bronx in search of love. Refusing to sign a seven year studio contract, Steiger later turned down the role in the film version in 1955. Signing a studio contract at that time would "pigeon-hole" Steiger as to the roles he would later play and image portrayed on screen; those were two things Steiger objected to throughout his career. The role of Marty was turned over to Ernest Borgnine. Borgnine would receive the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Rod Steiger never regretted his decision to turn down the film role of Marty.
Steiger appeared in over 100 motion pictures. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal of Chief of Police Bill Gillespie in In the Heat of the Night (1967) opposite Sidney Poitier. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for On the Waterfront (1954), in which he played Marlon Brando's character's brother. He was nominated again, this time for Best Actor, for the gritty The Pawnbroker (1965), a Sidney Lumet film in which Steiger portrays an emotionally withdrawn Holocaust survivor living in New York City.
He played Jud Fry in the film version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!, in which he did his own singing. One of his favorite roles was as Komarovsky in Doctor Zhivago (1965). Steiger, the only American in the cast of that film, was initially apprehensive about working with such great British actors as Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness and was afraid that he would stick out, but he won acclaim for his performance. He also befriended fellow actor Tom Courtenay on this film; the two remained friends until Steiger's death.
He also appeared in The Big Knife as an overly aggressive movie studio boss who berates movie star Jack Palance; as Al Capone in Al Capone (1959); as Mr. Joyboy in The Loved One; as the serial killer in No Way to Treat a Lady; and as a repressed gay NCO in The Sergeant.
He also played well-known figures such as Napoleon Bonaparte in Waterloo (1970); Benito Mussolini in The Last Four Days (1974) and again in Lion of the Desert (1981); W. C. Fields in W. C. Fields and Me (1976); Pontius Pilate in Franco Zeffirelli's TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977); and mob boss Sam Giancana in the TV miniseries, Sinatra (1992). He appeared in several Italian films, including Hands Over the City (1963) and Lucky Luciano (1974) (both Francesco Rosi's), and also Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dynamite (1971). In France, he starred in Claude Chabrol's Innocents with Dirty Hands opposite Romy Schneider.
In his later years he appeared in The Amityville Horror (1979); The Specialist (1994), and Mars Attacks!. On television, he appeared in the miniseries Jackie Collins' Hollywood Wives (1985), Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (1993), and a 1995 Columbo television movie. Among his final roles was the judge in the prison drama, The Hurricane (1999). The film reunited him with director Norman Jewison, who had directed him in In the Heat of the Night. His last film was A Month of Sundays.
Steiger also starred in the film version of Kurt Vonnegut's play Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971). In 1969, he appeared in the film adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man with his then-wife, Claire Bloom. He was offered the title role in Patton, but turned it down because he did not want to glorify war. The role was then given to George C. Scott, who won a Best Actor Oscar. Steiger called this refusal his "dumbest career move."
Steiger has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 7080 Hollywood Boulevard.
Steiger was married five times: actress Sally Gracie (married 1952, divorced 1958), actress Claire Bloom (married 1959, divorced 1969), Sherry Nelson (married 1973, divorced 1979), Paula Ellis (married 1986, divorced 1997), and actress Joan Benedict (married 2000). Steiger & Bloom appeared in two films together, both in 1969, The Illustrated Man & Three Into Two Won't Go.
He had two daughters, Claudia Myhers (born in 1954) and opera singer Anna Steiger (born in 1960) by Bloom, and a son, Michael Steiger (1993), from his marriage to Ellis. He had two grandchildren, Hanna Rose and Ashley Victoria.
After undergoing triple heart bypass surgery in 1976, Steiger reportedly fell into a serious depression for eight years. Steiger gave an emotional account of his struggle with depression on an episode of Larry King Live.
Rod Steiger died in Los Angeles, aged 77, from pneumonia and complications from surgery for a gall bladder tumor. He is buried in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery.
The film, Saving Shiloh, released in 2006, was dedicated to his memory.
According to research at the University of Virginia, using the Internet Movie Database as a guide, Steiger was the best-linked actor in Hollywood history, if one can link two actors if they have ever appeared in a movie together. The average "Steiger number" of a movie actor, meaning the number of links it takes to get from that actor to Steiger, is 2.679. By contrast, the average "Bacon number," the number of links it takes to reach Kevin Bacon (whose linkability is much more famous), is 2.955. Steiger, incidentally, has a Bacon number of 2. See: Small world phenomenon.
On the Waterfront (1954)
The Big Knife (1955)
The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955)
The Harder They Fall (1956)
Back from Eternity (1956)
The Unholy Wife (1957)
Run of the Arrow (1957)
Across the Bridge (1957)
Cry Terror! (1958)
Al Capone (1959)
Seven Thieves (1960)
The World in My Pocket (1961)
The Mark (1961)
13 West Street (1962)
Convicts 4 (1962)
The Longest Day (1962)
Hands Over the City (1963)
Time of Indifference (1964)
The Pawnbroker (1964)
A Man Named John (1965)
The Loved One (1965)
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
The Girl and the General (1967)
No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)
The Sergeant (film) (1968)
The Illustrated Man (1969)
Three Into Two Won't Go (1969)
A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)
Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971)
The Moviemakers (1973) (short subject)
Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973)
The Heroes (1973)
Mussolini: The Last Four Days (1974)
Lucky Luciano (1974)
Dirty Hands (1975)
W.C. Fields and Me (1976)
Portrait of a Hitman (1977)
Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
The Amityville Horror (1979)
Love and Bullets (1979)
Klondike Fever (1980)
The Lucky Star (1980)
Lion of the Desert (1981)
Cattle Annie and Little Britches (1981)
The Chosen (1981)
The Magic Mountain (1982)
The Naked Face (1984)
Sword of Gideon (1986)
Catch the Heat (1987)
The Kindred (1986)
American Gothic (1988)
The Exiles (1989) (documentary) (narrator)
That Summer of White Roses (1989)
The January Man (1989)
Tennessee Nights (1989)
Try This One for Size (1989)
In the Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas (1991)
Men of Respect (1991)
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1991)
Guilty as Charged (1991)
The Player (1992) (Cameo)
Sinatra (1992) (as Sam Giancana)
The Neighbor (1993)
Living on Borrowed Time (1993)
Tales of the City (1993) (Cameo)
The Last Tattoo (1994)
The Specialist (1994)
Captain Nuke and the Bomber Boys (1995)
Seven Sundays (1995)
In Pursuit of Honor (1995)
Mars Attacks! (1996)
The Kid (1997)
Truth or Consequences, N.M. (1997)
Livers Ain't Cheap (1997)
Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's (1997) (documentary)
The Snatching of Bookie Bob (1998) (short subject)
Body and Soul (1998)
Alexandria Hotel (1998)
Animals and the Tollkeeper (1998)
Modern Vampires (1998)
Cypress Edge (1999)
Crazy in Alabama (1999)
Shiloh 2: Shiloh Season (1999)
The Hurricane (1999)
End of Days (1999)
Moby Dick (1999) (animated short subject)
The Last Producer (2000)
The Flying Dutchman (2001)
A Month of Sundays (2001)
The Hollywood Sign (2001)
Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World (2001) (documentary)
Poolhall Junkies (2002)
1.^ Current Biography, H.W. Wilson Co., 1991, pp. 407, ISBN
2.^ Rod Steiger Biography
3.^ Ross, Helen; Lillian Ross (1962), The Player: A Profile of an Art, Simon and Schuster, pp. 275, ISBN
4.^ Rod Steiger, Telegraph.co.uk, 2002-07-09, archived from the original on 2007-11-09, http://web.archive.org/web/20071109233805/http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2002/07/10/db1001.xml
5.^ Time magazine
6.^ Obituary: Rod Steiger
7.^ McNeal, Jeff (2001-11-01), Rod Steiger interview, bigpicturedvd.com, archived from the original on 2007-10-10, http://web.archive.org/web/20071010033541/http://www.thebigpicturedvd.com/bigreport12.shtml
8.^ Cornwell, Rupert (2002-07-10), Rod Steiger, 'brooding and volatile' Hollywood tough guy for more than 50 years, dies aged 77, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/rod-steiger-brooding-and-volatile-hollywood-tough-guy-for-more-than-50-years-dies-aged-77-647871.html, retrieved 2009-05-21
9.^ The Oracle of Bacon