Character actor James Rebhorn essayed countless flinty professionals in a wide variety of projects, from dramas like "Silkwood" (1983) and "Scent of a Woman" (1992) to broad comedies like "My Cousin Vinny" (1992) and "Baby Mama" (2008) over the course of a three-decade career in films and on television. The Pennsylvania native began acting on the New York stage before graduating to TV and features in the late 1970s; by the middle of the 1980s, he had established his screen persona and worked tirelessly for the next three decades. Like many character actors, Rebhorn was frequently cast in similar roles - what the New York Times called "men in suits" - but in doing so, established himself as a consummate professional in some of the most popular and memorable projects of the 1990s and 2000s, including the final episode of "Seinfeld" (NBC 1989-1998) and hit shows like "Law & Order" (NBC 1990-2008) and "Homeland" (Showtime 2011- ). Rebhorn was busy with numerous recurring projects when he died on March 21, 2014 after a long battle with skin cancer. His self-penned obit, published after his death, displayed the gentler, deeply human nature of the actor - qualities that, while not always an element of his screen roles, made him a well-regarded and prolific figure in the industry for many years.
Born James Robert Rebhorn on September 1, 1948 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, James Rebhorn was the son of James Harry Rebhorn, an industrial engineer, and his wife, Ardell Frances. Rebhorn and his sister, Janice, moved with their parents to Anderson, Indiana, where he graduated from high school before briefly considering a career as a Lutheran minister. He instead studied political science at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, where he appeared on stage in several classical dramas. The experience spurred him to pursue acting as a career following his graduation in 1970. Once in New York City, Rebhorn earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting from Columbia University's School of the Arts before delving deeply into the city's theater scene. He was soon appearing in regional theater productions throughout the country, as well as television commercials, which led to his first roles in features and on television.
A tall, reedy figure with an intense gaze and occasionally rigid bearing, Rebhorn was frequently cast as men of authority - doctors, lawyers, and university professors - with a distinctly WASPish flavor. He made his small screen debut on the long-running soap "The Doctors" (NBC 1963-1982) in 1977 before delving into films with small roles in films like "Silkwood" (1983). By the mid-1980s, Rebhorn had become a ubiquitous presence on television through guest turns on "Kate & Allie" (CBS 1984-89), "The Equalizer" (CBS 1985-89) and the miniseries "North and South" (NBC 1985), among many other programs. A decade later, Rebhorn had graduated to steady work in features, including a bit role in Woody Allen's "Shadows and Fog" (1991), an expert witness called to testify on auto safety issues in "My Cousin Vinny" (1992), a doctor in "Basic Instinct" (1992) and back-to-back appearances opposite Al Pacino in "Scent of a Woman" (1992) and "Carlito's Way" (1993). The end of the 1990s saw the actor divide his time between major films like "Independence Day" (1996), "The Game" (1997) and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999) with episodic television, most notably as the district attorney who threw Jerry Seinfeld and his friends into prison in the final episode of "Seinfeld."
Rebhorn remained exceptionally prolific into the new millennium, though television shows provided the majority of his credits. He logged numerous hours on "Third Watch" (NBC 1999-2005), "30 Rock" (NBC 2006-2013), and "Boston Legal" (ABC 2004-08), though there were also numerous supporting roles in features, including "Cold Mountain" (2003) and "Baby Mama" (2008). Rebhorn was enjoying recurring roles on three series - as a federal agent on "White Collar" (USA 2009-14), a shadowy CEO on "Enlightened" (HBO 2011-13) and as Claire Danes' bipolar father on "Homeland" - when he grew ill from a fight with skin cancer that had begun in 1992. Rebhorn eventually succumbed to the disease on March 21, 2014, but not before penning his own obituary, which appeared on the website for the St. Paul Lutheran Church in Jersey City, New Jersey on March 26 of the same year. Rebhorn's moving summation of his life, in which he praised the love and support of his parents, wife Rebecca and especially his daughters, was reprinted and reposted on numerous websites and publications, which praised his humility and talent.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Feature film debut in "The Yum Yum Girls"
First dramatic television appearance on "The Doctors"
Minor role in "Silkwood"
Recurring appearances on "Spenser: For Hire"
Appears in PBS broadcast of "Our Town" production on Broadway
Plays auto expert in "My Cousin Vinny"
Appears as military school head in "Scent of a Woman"
Cast as district attorney on final episode of "Seinfeld"
First of multiple appearances on "Law & Order"
Co-starring turn as Dr. Banks in "Meet the Parents"
Recurring role as Capt. Elchisak on "Third Watch"
Recurring role on "White Collar"
Recurring appearance as Claire Danes' father on "Homeland"