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Tony Musante, who took down drug dealers in his portrayal of a real-life New Jersey detective in the 1970s ABC series Toma, died Tuesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York following surgery. He was 77.
Often playing a tough guy on either side of the law, Musante also sparkled as one of two menacing hoodlums (Martin Sheen was the other) who terrorize innocent people on a New York subway car in the 1967 thriller The Incident. Musante had originated the role in a made-for-NBC drama four years earlier.
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A dark-haired Italian-American born in Bridgeport, Conn., Musante starred in several films made in Italy. He played a Mexican revolutionary in the spaghetti Western A Professional Gun (1968), an American writer in Dario Argento‘s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970) and a man with a terminal illness who reunites with the love of his life in The Anonymous Venetian (1971).
Musante played a vicious hitman opposite George C. Scott in The Last Run (1971), a heel in Robert Aldrich‘s The Grissom Gang (1971), Eric Roberts‘ mob-connected uncle in The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984) and another mobster on HBO’s prison-set Oz for a season in 1997.
He was nominated for an Emmy Award for his 1975 guest-starring role on an episode of NBC’s Medical Story and starred as the Army officer who engineered the My Lai massacre in the 1975 ABC telefilm Judgment: The Court Martial of Lieutenant William Calley, co-directed by Stanley Kramer.
Musante starred opposite Susan Strasberg as Det. David Toma in Toma, which ran for a season in 1973-74. The real Toma worked out of crime-ridden Newark and was a master of disguise. Some criticized the series — created by Roy Huggins (TV’s Maverick, The Fugitive, The Rockford Files) — for being too violent.
Musante did not want to commit to another full season and quit after Toma was renewed. The violence of the show was toned down, and the series was retooled as the much-friendlier Baretta, starring Robert Blake in the title role.
Musante also appeared in the films The Detective (1968), The Yards (2000) and We Own the Night (2007) — the latter pair directed by James Gray — and on TV in such series as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Fugitive, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Rockford Files and Pompeii.
The actor started out on off-Broadway stages and on TV in the late 1950s. Musante made his Broadway debut in 1975 as a gay burglar in P.S. Your Cat Is Dead! and received a New York Drama Desk nomination. He later starred with Meryl Streep in a 1976 production of 27 Wagons Full of Cotton.
In February, he donated his personal-papers collection to the archives of Oberlin College. He graduated from the Ohio school in 1958.
Survivors include his wife of 51 years, Jane.
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