December 28, 2011 by abbyo
Where you’ve seen him: Over 100 films and TV shows including “Ghost,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Amadeus,” “A Little Princess,” “Taxi,” “Better Off Dead,” “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension,” “Batman Returns,” “Man on the Moon” and “Tomorrow Never Dies.”
In 1997, Vincent Schiavelli was named by Vanity Fair as one of America’s top character actors, despite the fact that of the 100-plus movies he appeared in, he was rarely anything more than a bit player. While I’m sure it has something to do with Schiavelli’s great acting and commitment to even this silliest of parts (see “Death to Smoochy”), I think it’s got equally as much to do with his instant recognizablity. Even if you never knew the guy’s name, you know who he was. There’s absolutely no mistaking that long, skinny face, with its big nose, bald forehead and impossibly huge droopy eyes. And at roughly six-and-a-half feet, he tended to tower over his fellow actors. These are features that made Schiavelli particularly desirable for creepy, off-the-rails characters. Characters like “Ghost’s” Subway Ghost, the hostile specter that teaches Patrick Swayze how to operate in the spirit world.
But, as with the likes of other great “that guys” like Wallace Shawn, Peter Mullan and Stephen Tobolowsky, Schiavelli’s professional life wasn’t only limited to acting. He was just as accomplished in a different area: food. He wrote three cookbooks, and contributed articles on food to numerous magazines and newspapers. The man definitely knew his stuff, winning the James Beard award for food journalism in 2001. Born in Italy, he also died there in 2005, six years ago yesterday. I have no doubt that if he were still alive, he’d have beaten out Tobolowsky for most appearances onscreen. He was a unique actor who lent a sense of gravitas (and, occasionally, unhinged craziness) to whatever movie he was in, a professional “that guy” to the very core.