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Peter Strauss

Peter Strauss

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: February 20, 1947 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: Cast ... actor producer citrus farmer
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BIOGRAPHY

Classically handsome leading man Peter Strauss first garnered acclaim on the seminal TV miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man" (ABC, 1976), and went on to become one of the most bankable actors in made-for-television movies for decades to come. A milestone in television history, "Rich Man, Poor Man" paved the way for such epic literary adaptations as "Roots" (ABC, 1977) and "Shogun" (NBC, 1980). Although his breakout performance led to roles in features, including "The Last Tycoon" (1976), he would find far more success and accolades for his work in small screen efforts like the critically-acclaimed "The Jericho Mile" (ABC, 1979). However, it would be the format of the miniseries which would bear the most fruit for Strauss in such productions as the historical docudrama "Masada" (ABC, 1981), and another multi-parter based on a best-selling series of novels, "Kane & Abel" (CBS, 1985). The lead role in the short-lived drama series "Moloney" (CBS, 1996-97) was balanced out with work on more reliable projects like the TV movie "My Father's Shadow: The Sam Sheppard Story" (CBS, 1998) and the occasional supporting turn in features, including the comedy "License to Wed" (2007). In a career that spanned more than four decades, Strauss maintained a reputation as an always reliable presence in an impressive array of material that covered virtually every genre imaginable.

Born Peter Lawrence Strauss on Feb. 20, 1947 in New York City and raised in the upscale suburb of Croton-on-the-Hudson, Strauss was focused on acting from an early age and appeared in productions of "As You Like It" and "Romeo and Juliet" with the Croton Shakespeare Festival while still a teenager. He also worked in summer stock while attending Northwestern University's famed acting program. Upon graduation, Strauss set out for Los Angeles where an early screen test earned him a supporting role as Michael Douglas' black sheep brother in the anti-war drama "Hail, Hero!" (1969). After appearing at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in "The Dance Next Door," he won his first screen lead in the highly-controversial "Soldier Blue" (1970). Inspired by the notorious Sand Creek massacre of Native Americans by U.S. Cavalry troops in 1864, Strauss played an idealistic young soldier caught between his military duty and his growing affection for a girl (Candice Bergen) who allies herself with the local Cheyenne population. In addition to several small guest roles on various television programs at the time, he also co-starred in "The Trial of the Catonsville Nine" (1972), a feature film based on the stage play he had appeared in two years prior at the Mark Taper Forum.

The following year, Strauss made his TV movie debut in the nautical adventure "A Man Without a Country" (ABC, 1973), co-starring Cliff Robertson and Beau Bridges. Shortly thereafter, he picked up a pivotal role in the two-part "Attack on Terror: The FBI Versus the Ku Klux Klan" (CBS, 1975) when he played a character loosely based on Michael Schwermer, one of three Civil Rights workers who were murdered in Mississippi in 1964. However, it was as Rudy Jordache, the immigrant's son destined to fulfill the American dream in television's first literature-based miniseries, "Rich Man, Poor Man" (ABC, 1976), that Strauss truly rose to prominence and small screen stardom. Based on the bestseller by Irwin Shaw, the 12-part miniseries followed the tumultuous, divergent lives of Strauss' ambitious entrepreneurial character, and that of his combative, less-fortunate brother Tom (Nick Nolte). So successful was the telepic that it paved the way for other similar projects, spawned a sequel, and launched co-star Nolte's prestigious feature film career. It boosted Strauss' profile considerably, as well, leading to a supporting role amidst an acclaimed cast that included Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson in "The Last Tycoon" (1976). As highly-anticipated as it was critically disappointing, the film, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished novel, would be the final directorial effort of the great Elia Kazan.

Strauss resumed his Emmy-nominated role as Rudy Jordache - now a U.S. Senator - in the year-long sequel, "Rich Man, Poor Man: Book II" (ABC, 1976-77). After his considerable success with "Rich Man," the actor went on to appear in several above average television projects, including the biopic "Joe: The Forgotten Kennedy" (ABC, 1977) and "The Jericho Mile" (ABC, 1979), an early effort written and directed by Michael Mann. For the latter, Strauss won a 1979 Emmy as a Folsom Prison inmate who became an Olympic-level distance runner while serving a life sentence. Two years later, the ecologically-minded actor moved behind the camera, where he served as executive producer as well as star in "A Whale for the Killing" (ABC), about a man desperately trying to save a humpback whale from being slaughtered by the residents of a Newfoundland community after it becomes stranded in their bay. That same year, Strauss starred as the leader of a group of heroic Jewish zealots resisting Roman domination from within the walls of a remote mountain fortress in the epic miniseries "Masada" (ABC, 1981). Both Strauss and his co-star Peter O'Toole would garner Emmy nominations for their performances in the well-regarded docudrama.

Outside of television, Strauss provided the voice of an empathetic rat named Justin for the animated adaptation of the beloved children's novel "The Secret of NIMH" (1982). He followed with a playful turn as an intergalactic adventurer in the campy the 3-D sci-fi guilty pleasure "Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone" (1983), co-starring a young Molly Ringwald. A longtime conservationist, Strauss had bought and restored a rundown parcel of land near the scenic Malibu Lake and restored it to its former bucolic splendor shortly after filming "Rich Man, Poor Man." In 1983, he sold that property to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, and in 1987 it was purchased by the National Park Service, which officially named it the Peter Strauss Ranch in honor of his environmental advocacy. Back on television, Strauss executive produced and played a steelworker in "Heart of Steel" (ABC, 1983), followed by a turn as Dick Diver in the miniseries adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender Is the Night" (Showtime, 1985). That same year, he revisited familiar miniseries territory as Abel Rosnovski, a successful polish immigrant who becomes obsessed with the destruction of his business rival (Sam Neil), in the adaptation of Jeffrey Archer's "Kane & Abel" (CBS, 1985).

Strauss later portrayed a fictional director of the FBI advising caution in the face of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in the prescient made-for-TV movie "Under Siege" (NBC, 1986). Other work of the period included his role as the estranged son of Charlton Heston in "Proud Men" (ABC, 1987), and as the title character in "Peter Gunn" (ABC, 1989), director Blake Edwards' ill-conceived attempt at reviving his kitschy private eye franchise, memorable mostly for composer Henry Mancini's swinging theme song. As his career transitioned into the 1990s, Strauss remained one of the few actors whose name could carry a made-for-TV movie. He played a cop obsessed with tracking down a brutal rapist (Eric Roberts) in "Fugitive Among Us" (CBS, 1992), followed by a role far removed from his usual heroic repertoire in "Men Don't Tell" (CBS, 1993), as a husband suffering physical abuse at the hands of his wife. Strauss contributed to another revered literary adaptation as the father of a hard-scrabble family trying to survive in the Florida Everglades in the remake of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' "The Yearling" (CBS, 1994). He also ventured back onto the big screen as the husband of a politician targeted for assassination in the lackluster Johnny Depp thriller "Nick of Time" (1995).

Strauss took the weekly series plunge for the first time as the star of the short-lived drama "Moloney" (CBS, 1996-97), in which he played a level-headed police psychiatrist attempting to cope with the constant chaos of both his personal and professional lives. He next essayed suspected murderer Dr. Sam Sheppard in "My Father's Shadow: The Sam Sheppard Story" (CBS, 1998), the real-life character and story that inspired the TV series and Harrison Ford film "The Fugitive." A few years later, Strauss made another attempt at joining a series as a regular cast member on the dead-on-arrival medical drama "Body & Soul" (ION Television Network, 2002), which lasted less than a season. Unfortunately, efforts to take part in more respectable feature projects failed to yield returns, in such forgettable offerings as an appearance as the U.S. President in the action sequel "xXx: State of the Union" (2005), and as Mandy Moore's father in the Robin Williams premarital farce "License to Wed" (2007). Potentially more rewarding was Strauss' stint as the narrator for the topical sketch comedy series "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union" (Showtime, 2008-2010), in addition to closing out the decade as a modern-day mountain man in the back-to-nature drama "Jack's Family Adventure" (Hallmark Channel, 2010).

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