He was a contemporary of higher-profile stars Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger and also studied at the famed Actors Studio in Manhattan. He conquered Broadway, originating the role of Brick in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," but didn't capitalize on his rising star when Hollywood came calling.
"When I became hot, so to speak, in the theater, I got a lot of offers," he told Charlie Rose in a 1998 interview. "I won't tell you the pictures I turned down because you would say, 'You are a fool.' And I was a fool."
Gazzara still managed to make an indelible mark on the movies, especially in the films of Cassavetes, including "Husbands," "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" and "Opening Night." He also became a favorite of Peter Bogdanovich, who cast him in a rare leading role in "Saint Jack" and as a private detective in "They All Laughed."
He's probably best known for his role for the 1959 courtroom drama "Anatomy of a Murder," in which his character is on trial for having murdered the rapist of wife Lee Remick, defended by James Stewart and prosecuted by George C. Scott. Among his memorable supporting parts: a shady schemer in David Mamet's "The Spanish Prisoner," a porn producer in the Coen Bros. "Big Lebowski" and a mobster in Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam." Vincent Gallo cast him as his father in 1998 film "Buffalo '66." He also had played the villain in Patrick Swayze cable mainstay "Road House," which was probably, as he often joked, his most seen role.
Gazzara won a supporting actor Emmy for his work in the 2002 HBO film "Hysterical Blindness," opposite Cassavetes' favorite leading lady (and widow) Gena Rowlands. The two had previously co-starred in the groundbreaking 1985 TV movie, "An Early Frost," which earned Gazzara an Emmy nomination, adding to the two he received in the '60s for his role as a terminally ill man on the series "Run for Your Life."
His most recent films include "Dogville" for Lars von Trier and "Paris je t'aime."