Family & Companions
An Obie-winning theater star of the 1970s, John Heard made the leap to motion pictures during that decade with leading roles in such overlooked cult favorites as "Between the Lines" (1977), "Chilly Scenes of Winter" (1979) and "Cutter's Way" (1981) before transitioning to character roles in Hollywood, most notably as Macaulay Culkin's dad in "Home Alone" (1990). Heard excelled as men in turmoil, whether romantic, moral or criminal, and brought gravity and complexity to even minor roles in films like "Awakenings" (1992) and "In the Line of Fire" (1993). Recurring roles on television provided him the time to flesh out his roles, including an Emmy-nominated turn as a crooked cop on "The Sopranos" (HBO, 1999-2007). His versatility made him one of the business's most recognizable and dependable actors, and his death on July 21, 2017 at the age of 72 brought a much-lauded career to a close.
Born in Washington, D.C. on March 7, 1945, John Heard was educated by Jesuits at Gonzaga College High School before graduating from Clark University in Massachusetts. Theater had been in his blood since his high school days, and he blossomed into one of the leading lights on the New York and Chicago stage scenes in the early 1970s, beginning with productions for Chicago's experimental Organic Theater. He later returned to the East Coast, where he won a Theatre World Award for the 1976 production of David Rabe's "Streamers" in New Haven, CT. In 1979, he claimed Obie Awards as Cassio in the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of "Othello" and in the Second Stage Theatre's "Split" in 1980. His feature film debut had come three years earlier with a little-seen romantic comedy about bicycle messengers called "Rush It" (1976). A year later, he earned his first lead in director Joan Micklin Silver's "Between the Lines" (1977), a quirky comedy-drama about the staff of a Boston underground newspaper awaiting their fates as a larger conglomerate plans to purchase them. More indie films of this ilk soon followed, including the gritty, Silver-produced prison drama "On the Yard" (1978), and a faithful, four-part adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" (PBS, 1979), with Heard as the tormented reverend, Arthur Dimmesdale.
Heard received rave notices for Silver's "Chilly Scenes of Winter" (1979), an offbeat romantic drama about a civil servant (Heard) who falls in love with and later becomes obsessed with a co-worker (Mary Beth Hurt). A cult favorite after its re-release in 1982, where its original happy ending was changed to reflect the melancholy conclusion of the source novel by Ann Beattie, it minted Heard as an up-and-coming leading man who specialized in thoughtful, arthouse-minded fare. He would continue in this vein for several subsequent features, all of which earned him superb reviews; in "Heart Beat" (1982), he played the brilliant but erratic novelist Jack Kerouac, and a maimed Vietnam War vet who concocts an elaborate blackmail scheme to trap an alleged killer in the meta-thriller "Cutter's Way" (1981). While each helped to boost Heard's reputation as a powerful performer, none of the films made much of a showing at the box office, with "Cutter" and "Chilly" actually pulled from release due to lack of audience interest.
Eventually, Heard's reviews would bring him to the attention of Hollywood. After playing the zoo keeper who falls for Nastassja Kinski's half-human, half-animal seductress in Paul Schrader's "Cat People" (1982), he found a niche playing men with deep character flaws, which either reduced them to antagonists or forced them to struggle mightily to achieve their goals. The former included his malevolent bartender in Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" (1985), Geraldine Page's selfish son in "The Trip to Bountiful," Tom Hanks' bullying competition in "Big" (1988), and the monstrous Ku Klux Klan leader in "Cross of Fire" (NBC, 1989). Among the second type were his disillusioned photographer who discovers mutants preying on the homeless in the cult favorite "CHUD" (1984) and the '60s radical-turned-newspaper editor in Robert Redford's "The Milagro Beanfield War" (1988).
However, the role that largely defined Heard to mainstream audiences was Peter McAllister, father to forgotten Kevin McAllister (Macauley Culkin) in the John Hughes-penned "Home Alone" (1990). "Home Alone" turned out to be the third highest grossing film of 1990, which in turn gave Heard's profile a considerable boost. A sequel, "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" (1992), was a foregone conclusion.
Now in his late forties, but still retaining his boyish looks, Heard settled comfortably into character actor status, playing men of authority who frequently straddled the moral fence in major features like "Awakenings" (1992), "In the Line of Fire" (1993), "The Pelican Brief" (1993) and "My Fellow Americans" (1996). He appeared to save his best turns for more independent-minded fare like "Rambling Rose" (1991), where he played a man whose return to his Southern homestead sets in motion a recollection of his family's relationship with a troubled young woman (Laura Dern). In 1995, he stepped into the role of Roy Foultrigg, a Louisiana-based district attorney, in a TV adaptation of John Grisham's "The Client" (CBS, 1995-96). Despite solid reviews, the show lasted only a season.
Television soon became one of Heard's best showcases. He won favorable reviews for his performance as ABC sports chief Roone Arledge in "Monday Night Mayhem" (TNT, 2002) and the alcoholic lawyer-father to Emily Procter's Calliegh Duquesne on numerous episodes of "CSI: Miami" (CBS, 2002-12). Political figures continued to be a staple of Heard's appearances. He essayed Missouri Republican senator Dennis Morgenthal, future political opponent to President Robert McAllister on the short-lived "Jack & Bobby" (The WB, 2004-05), and Frank Tancredi, ill-fated governor of Illinois and father to Sarah Wayne Callies' Sara Tancredi on "Prison Break" (Fox, 2005-09). However, his most notable small screen turn during this period was as Vin Makazian on "The Sopranos." A New Jersey police detective on the payroll of mobster Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), his struggles with alcohol and depression made him debase himself in his need for Tony's approval. For his work on "The Sopranos," Heard received an Emmy nomination in 1999.
Heard continued to divide his time between television and features in the new millennium. Among his more notable roles were star Benjamin McKenzie's father on "Southland" (NBC, 2009; TNT, 2010-13), a preacher with a strong anti-Germanic streak in the indie "Sweet Land" (2005), and a supporting role in gambling drama "Runner Runner" (2013). Heard continued to work steadily through his 60s and early 70s, although usually in smaller films and occasional guest roles on television series such as "Entourage" (HBO 2004-2011) and "NCIS: Los Angeles" (CBS 2009- ). A starring role in deliberately campy TV movie "Sharknado" (SyFy 2013) was a major highlight during this era. John Heard was found dead in a hotel room in Palo Alto, California on July 21, 2017, shortly after he had undergone minor surgery on his back. He was 72.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Had first starring role in a feature film in "Between the Lines"
Made TV debut in PBS adaptation "The Scarlet Letter"
Played writer Jack Kerouac in biopic "Heart Beat"
Starred in Ivan Passer's crime drama "Cutter's Way"
Co-starred with Daniel Stern in creature feature "C.H.U.D."
Appeared as Tom Hanks' romantic rival in the coming-of-age comedy "Big"
Co-starred as Peter McCallister in ensemble comedy "Home Alone"
Reprised Peter McCallister character in "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York"
Co-starred as Roy Fotrigg on short-lived TV version of "John Grisham's 'The Client'" (CBS)
Starred in Brian De Palma's "Snake Eyes" with Nicolas Cage
Had an Emmy-nominated turn as a crooked cop on "The Sopranos"
Cast in the critically acclaimed "Pollock," starring Ed Harris as the American painter
Played Dennis Morgenthal on the short-lived series "Jack & Bobby"
Played Governor Frank Tancredi on "Prison Break"
Appeared as Richard Wimmer on "Entourage"
Cast in campy sci-fi adventure "Sharknado"
Had recurring role as a congressional investigator on "NCIS: Los Angeles"
Played final role in a film released during his lifetime, co-starring with Jane Seymour in the drama "Pray for Rain"