David Huddleston, a noted character actor who was most famously known for the titular role in “The Big Lebowski” died Tuesday at 85. His wife, Sarah Koeppe, told the Los Angeles Times that he died of heart and kidney disease in Santa Fe, N.M.
Huddleston’s character in the 1998 “The Big Lebowski” epitomized the types of characters he was known for — big dons or capos and tempestuous men. Although he is in only a few scenes in the film, he crosses paths with Jeff Bridges’ Lebowski character, aka “The Dude,” after a group of gang members attack “The Dude” mistaking him for Huddleston’s millionaire Lebowski. Though the film was not a hit when it first premiered, it has since become a huge cult sensation with a devoted fan base.
Before he was cast as the Big Lebowski, he guest starred on several TV shows, including “Walker Texas Ranger,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Gilmore Girls” and “The West Wing” and had a recurring role as the grandfather on “The Wonder Years,” for which he was Emmy nominated. His film credits include the title role in 1985’s “Santa Claus: The Movie,” “Rio Lobo,” “Billy Two Hats,” “Capricorn One,” “Blazing Saddles” and “The Producers.”
His wife told the L.A. Times that he considered his “crowning achievement” to be the role of Benajmin Franklin in the 1998 Broadway production of “1776” and in Washington, D.C. in 2003.
Huddleston served more than 10 years on the Screen Actors Guild’s national board. He was elected to multi-year terms in 1976, 1982, 2000, and 2004. He was also a member of the SAG Hollywood division’s board.
“David Huddleston was a uniquely gifted actor and a proud unionist,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. “He will be forever remembered for his service to our union and the countless characters he brought to life on screen. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and loved ones.”
Born in Vinton, Va., he served in the Air Force and then studied acting in New York on the G.I. Bill. He started out in the theater, touring with productions including “The Music Man” and “Mame.”
Huddleston is survived by his wife.