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Character Actor Al Ruscio Dies at 89

Al Ruscio - H 2013
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Al Ruscio

He appeared in scores of TV shows and films, including “Seinfeld,” “Life Goes On,” “Showgirls” and “The Godfather: Part III.”

Al Ruscio, an often-seen character actor who appeared on TV, in films and on stage for more than a half-century, died Tuesday, his daughter Elizabeth said. He was 89.

Ruscio played the new restaurant manager at Monk’s whom Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) accuses of employing only buxom women as waitresses (they turn out to be his daughters) in the 1993 Seinfeld episode “The Pilot”; a casino owner on Showgirls (1995); and an opera-loving grandfather on the late-1980s ABC drama Life Goes On, the first TV series to feature a major character with Down syndrome.

In The Godfather: Part III, he plays crime boss Leo Cuneo and screams at Joe Mantegna’s character, “Joey Zaza, you son of a bitch!”

Ruscio also played a foul-mouthed ex-cabbie on Steambath, an early series for pay-TV outlet Showtime; Bonnie Franklin’s dad in one episode of One Day at a Time; and Elder No. 4 on The X-Files.

Ruscio appeared on scores of other shows, including 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, Sea Hunt, Peter Gunn, The Untouchables, McCloud, Phyllis, Lou Grant, Shannon, Barney Miller, Falcon Crest, St. Elsewhere, Matlock, Hill Street Blues, Scarecrow and Mrs. King, NYPD Blue and 7th Heaven.

He also acted in the soap operas Santa Barbara, Port Charles and Days of Our Lives.

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His film résumé includes Fever Heat (1968), Any Which Way You Can (1980), The Hunter (1980), Jagged Edge (1985), Guilty by Suspicion (1991), The Silence of the Hams (1994) and The Phantom (1996).

A native of Salem, Mass., Ruscio moved to New York and trained for two years at the Neighborhood Playhouse School for the Theatre. He moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and that year appeared on TV’s Gunsmoke and then in the Rod Steiger film Al Capone (1959).

In the '60s, Ruscio created the drama department at the newly formed Midwestern College in Denison, Iowa. He then served as a professor of acting at the University of Windsor in Canada and as artistic director of the Academy of Dramatic Art at Oakland (Mich.) University. Over the years, he conducted workshops with his wife, actress Kate Williamson

On stage, he starred in such productions as After the Fall, King Lear, Mizlansky-Zalinsky, The Merchant of Venice and The Man in the Glass Booth. He toured with Steve McQueen in A Hatful of Rain and was Jack Lemmon’s standby in Tribute.

His book, So Therefore …: A Practical Guide for Actors, was published last year.

“Every scene or action or speech has a ‘so therefore.’ It is the goal, the ultimate statement of the character. You should know the so therefore as you begin your scene.… The climax and the payoff is the ‘so therefore.’ ”

E-mail: Mike.Barnes@THR.com

Twitter: @mikebarnes4