Family & Companions
This eccentric, outspoken actor and writer is best-known within his own profession for being the acting coach and "metaphysician" for such young comics as Gilda Radner, John and James Belushi, Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Chris Farley and other "Saturday Night Live" members. After several abortive tries at college, the Kansas-born Close took to the road in the 1950s, working as a carnival barker and fire-eater ("Azrad the Incombustible"). He toured the country with various theatrical companies in the 1950s, including working alongside Nichols and May at the Compass Players in St. Louis in 1957. Later, Close co-founded Chicago's comedy group Second City (1960) and San Francisco's improvisational group The Committee (1963). Close also worked with such 1950s and 60s performers as Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and Tiny Tim. A Midwestern Timothy Leary, Close experimented with every drug imaginable and enthusiastically procured them for John Belushi, Lenny Bruce and others. (Close gave up drugs in the early 1980s after Belushi's death.)
Close made an early film appearance in "Beware the Blob" (1972) and was a bit player in "American Graffiti" (1973). He also played small and supporting roles in about a dozen films: After a turn as a hippie farmer in "Son of Blob" (1974), a lead in the erotic thriller "The Last Affair" (1976) and another bit in Michael Mann's "Thief" (1981), Close stayed offscreen for several years. He re-appeared as an English teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), then kept busy with small roles in the rock film "Light of Day" (1987), "Next of Kin" (1989), the atom bomb drama "Fat Man and Little Boy" (1989), the Dana Carvey comedy "Opportunity Knocks" (1990) and the Weegee biopic "The Public Eye" (1992). Close played priests or aldermen in "The Untouchables" (1987), "The Big Town" (1987) and "The Blob" (1988).
In the 1960s, co-worker Avery Schreiber helped get Close parts on such TV shows as "My Mother the Car," "Get Smart" and "The Double Life of Henry Fife." Knowing of his avuncular relationships with many "SNL" cast members, NBC producer Jean Doumanian hired Close to run improv and acting sessions with the cast from 1980-82. In front of the camera, Close played small roles in the CBS dramas "First Step" (1985, as a zoologist) and "Dream Breakers" (1989, as a doctor). He also keeps very active in the Chicago theater scene, playing The Ghost of Christmas Past in the Goodman Theater's annual "A Christmas Carol" from 1978-85, and appearing in productions of "The Time of Your Life" (1984), "Hamlet" (as Polonius), "Baal" and "Hotline." With his off-screen companion Charna Halpern, he oversaw the ImprovOlympic in Chicago until his death in March 1999.
Cast (Feature Film)
Published science fiction magazine (CATACLYSM) with friend
First show business job, throwing spaghetti "worms" at moviegoers during late-night horror shows
Appeared with the Compass Players, alongside Mike Nichols and Elaine May, among others
Arrived in New York to do stand-up comedy; began using heroin
Acted in the Off-Broadway musical "The Nervous Set"
Co-founded Second City in Chicago; fired in 1965 over his substance abuse and emotional problems
Co-founded The Committee in San Francisco
Founded theater company in Austin, Texas
Returned to Chicago
Appeared in small role in "American Graffiti"
Kicked own substance abuse problems after drug-related death of friend and protege Belushi
Again fired from Second City; developed comedy workshops at CrossCurrents and later ImprovOlympic
TV-movie debut, "First Step"
Once again returned to Second City to stage "The Gods Must Be Lazy"