Vincent Andrew Schiavelli (November 11, 1948 – December 26, 2005) was an American character actor noted for his work on stage, screen and television, often described as “the man with the sad eyes.” He was notable for his numerous and often critically acclaimed supporting roles. Schiavelli was also well known for his height, standing 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m).
He was born in Brooklyn, New York, to a Sicilian-American family. He attended Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School as a teen. He studied acting through the theatre programme at New York University and began performing on stage in the 1960s.
In 1971, Schiavelli landed his first film role in Miloš Forman’s 1971 production Taking Off, in which he played a counselor who taught parents of runaway teens to smoke marijuana in order to better understand their children’s experiences. Schiavelli’s aptitude and distinctive angular appearance soon provided him with a steady stream of supporting roles, often in Miloš Forman films, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Valmont, and the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon.
Schiavelli’s first television role came in 1972 as Peter Panama in The Corner Bar, the first sustained portrayal of a gay character on American television. Then in 1979 he returned to cinema as a silent monk in The Frisco Kid. An appearance on Taxi soon as the priest who marries Latka and Simka.
Back on the big screen, Schiavelli played Mr. Vargas, the biology teacher in the 1982 hit comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a role he reprised in the 1986 television spin-off Fast Times. He was cast in a similar role in the cult hit Better Off Dead in which he played Mr. Kerber, a geometry teacher. TV roles at the time included an appearance on Miami Vice as a research scientist who conspires to steal a top-secret prototype weapon from his employer, and an unaccredited role in an episode of Punky Brewster.
Further film roles came including a major cult role in 1984 where Schiavelli featured as John O’Connor, one of the evil Red Lectroids in the 1984 cult classic The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. In 1987, he starred alongside Tim Conway in the short film comedy Dorf on Golf, and then Dorf and the First Games of Mount Olympus in 1988.
His other television credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek: The Next Generation. In Highlander: The Series, he played Leo Atkins, a homeless Vietnam War veteran accused of murder in the Season 1 episode “Innocent Man”. In The X-Files, he played Lanny, man with an underdeveloped conjoined twin in the Season 2 episode ” Humbug”.
In 1990, he played the Subway Ghost in Ghost and in 1992, he played in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns as the “Organ Grinder”, one of the Penguin’s henchmen. He also appeared as another villain in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).
In 1997, he was named one of America’s best character actors by Vanity Fair magazine. He also made several voice appearances in the animated television show Hey Arnold! In 2002, he played a children’s television show host turned heroin addict named Buggy Ding Dong in Death To Smoochy.
Schiavelli died of lung cancer on December 26, 2005, aged 57, at his home in Polizzi Generosa, the Sicilian town where his grandfather was born, and about which he wrote in his 2002 book Many Beautiful Things: Stories and Recipes from Polizzi Generosa. Schiavelli was buried at Polizzi Generosa Cemetery, in Palermo, Sicily.