"Godfather" Actor Richard Bright Killed

Richard Bright, who played henchman Al Neri in all three Godfather movies, died Saturday after being hit by a bus. He was 68

By Josh Grossberg Feb 21, 2006 9:00 PMTags

Richard Bright, a versatile character actor who traversed both stage and screen but was best known as the Corleone family's enforcer in all three Godfather films, died Saturday in New York City after he was accidentally hit by a bus. He was 68.

According to police, Bright was crossing a street in his Upper West Side neighborhood at approximately 6:30 p.m. when the rear wheels of a tour bus struck him as it made a turn.

Unaware that he had hit someone, the driver continued on his route and wasn't informed of the incident until investigators questioned him at the end of the line. Bright was transported to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

During his four-plus decades in movies and television, Bright worked steadily, often playing hard-edged characters on both sides of the law.

In 1972's The Getaway, starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, Bright was a con-man who ends up duping McGraw's character and in turn suffering the wrath of McQueen's Doc McCoy.

But Bright's biggest claim to fame was as Al Neri, Al Pacino's chief bodyguard in the Godfather trilogy. In The Godfather Part II, Neri was the muscle charged with sending Michael Corleone's disloyal older brother Fredo to sleep with the fishes during a fateful boat ride at the end of the movie.

Born on June 28, 1937 in Brooklyn, Bright began acting at an early age in the theater. His sturdy good looks and no-nonsense demeanor enabled him to segue into film and television, beginning with a small part in director Robert Wise's 1959 film, Odds Against Tomorrow. Bright followed up with his first big breakout role as Hank the burglar opposite a relatively unknown Pacino in 1971's Panic in Needle Park.

Bright was cast as Neri in 1972's The Godfather, but unlike Pacino and James Caan, who found themselves suddenly transformed into mega-stars, Bright continued toiling in the background as highly regarded character actor.

Among his othes: 1976's Marathon Man, 1977's Looking For Mr. Goodbar, 1983's Two of a Kind, 1984's Once Upon a Time in America, 1986's Brighton Beach Memoirs, 1988's Red Heat, 1994's The Ref, 1996's Beautiful Girls and 1999's Joe the King.

On the tube, Bright appeared on Hill Street Blues, The Equalizer, Oz, Third Watch and more recently The Sopranos and Law & Order and its two spinoffs, Criminal Intent and Special Victims Unit.

Bright also maintained a love affair with the stage. In 1965, he was arrested in San Francisco on obscenity charges for cussing up a storm in poet Michael McLure's two-person drama, The Beard. The play was forced to close, but with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union, Bright was able to get the charges dismissed in a vital victory for the freedom of artistic expression.

Bright also teamed with Pacino on a variety of productions, including Richard the III at New York's Cort Theater in 1979.

Plans for funeral services had not been released. Bright is survived by his wife, actress Rutanya Alda, and son Jeremy Bright.