Character actor played hundreds of TV roles

Character actor Len Lesser, who played Jerry Seinfeld’s irritable uncle Leo on NBC’s “Seinfeld,” died Wednesday, Feb. 16, in Burbank from cancer-related pneumonia. He was 88.

Lesser had hundreds of credits in television and film, with his first TV credit stretching back to 1949’s “Studio One in Hollywood.” His first film role was in the 1955 B movie “Shack Out on 101.”

Lesser’s somewhat sinister appearance meant he was usually cast as the heavy.

He appeared in two episodes each of “The Jack Benny Program,” “The Red Skelton Hour,” “My Favorite Martian,” “Bonanza” and “Kojak,” and three episodes of “Get Smart,” but he didn’t get the chance to make a lasting impression until the role on “Seinfeld,” on which he appeared for 15 episodes from 1991-98. He did three episodes of “Son of the Beach” in 2002 and nine episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” playing Raymond’s father’s friend Garvin, from 1996-2004.

Most recently he did an episode of ” ‘Til Death” in 2008 and made his last TV appearance in a 2009 episode of ABC’s “Castle.”

Film credits included two Clint Eastwood pictures, “Kelly’s Heroes” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” plus “Papillon” and the 1978 comedy “House Calls,” with Walter Matthau.

Born Leonard King Lesser in New York, he graduated from the City College of New York in 1942 with a degree in economics and government. After serving in the Army during WWII, he studied acting in New York and moved to Los Angeles in 1954.

Lesser also did stage work in the L.A. area, appearing in “Cold Storage” at the Gun Theater in 1993, “Cantorial” at Actors Alley in 1992 and, last year, “Awake and Sing!” at A Noise Within.

He is survived by a daughter, a son and three grandchildren.

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