Ben Gazzara

Ray Fisher//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Maybe you knew him from Roadhouse, The Big Lebowski or the John Cassavetes canon, but chances are you knew, and recognized, Ben Gazzara.

Gazzara, the always-working actor who specialized in tough guys, bad guys and every other kind of guy in between, died Friday at a New York hospital of pancreatic cancer, the New York Times reported.

He was 81.

Gazzara's screen and Broadway credits, well more than 100 in all, date back some 60 years. He considered the 1959 black-and-white procedural classic Anatomy of a Murder to be a breakthough: "I got to work with my first movie star," he told The A.V. Club in 2009, "Jimmy Stewart."

His most celebrated work was with Cassavetes.

Gazzara starred in three of the revered actor-director's tour de forces, Husbands, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Opening Night. He routinely credited the movies with keeping his name alive to new generations of filmmakers.

As noted elsewhere, Gazzara's death came 23 years to the day of Cassavetes', who passed away in 1989 at age 59.

Other popular Gazzara roles included porn-peddler Jackie Treehorn in the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski, and the dastardly Brad Wesley, who despite being possessed of the least villainous-sounding name of all-time pushed Patrick Swayze to the limit in the cult classic, Roadhouse.

In another lifetime, Gazzara was a prime-time star who put in a three-season stint on the Fugitive-esque Run for Your Life.

A one-time Emmy winner, for the TV movie Hysterical Blindness, which costarred his frequent leading lady (and Cassevetes widow), Gena Rowlands, Gazzara also won acclaim for An Early Frost, a 1985 telepic that broached the then-unbroachable AIDS crisis.

In a memoir, Gazzara, who was married three times, opened up about a love affair with Audrey Hepburn, with whom he acted alongside in two movies. "So obviously I wasn't in love," Gazzara said in 2004.  "I was enraptured."

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