Bruno Kirby

Fine character actor
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Bruno Giovanni Quidaciolu (Bruno Kirby), actor: born New York 28 April 1949; married 2004 Lynn Sellers; died Los Angeles 14 August 2006.

The character actor Bruno Kirby was a lively presence in several films from the mid-Seventies on. Short and volatile, with receding dark curly hair and, in his later films, a moustache, he excelled at playing street-wise, fast-talking New Yorkers, often likeable rogues, and will be particularly remembered for his roles as best friend to Billy Crystal in the hit comedies When Harry Met Sally (1989) and City Slickers (1991), and for his splendid off-beat creations in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and The Freshman (1990).

He also proved himself a fine dramatic actor with his performances as an ill-fated gangster who unwittingly befriends an undercover agent (Johnny Depp) in Donnie Brasco (1997), and in the strong drama about abuse in young offenders' prisons, Sleepers (1996). On the Broadway stage, he won plaudits when he took over from Kevin Spacey the role of the colourfully shady uncle in Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers.

Born Bruno Giovanni Quidaciolu in 1949 in New York City, he was the son of the actor Bruce Kirby (whose work includes the recurring role of Sergeant Kramer in the television series Columbo, plus a role in last year's Oscar- winning film Crash). He studied acting with Stella Adler and Peggy Fleury, making his screen début in The Young Graduates (1971) billed as B. Kirby Jr, and used that billing for several films, including The Harrad Experiment (1973), in which he played a sexually naïve young man receiving treatment at an experimental college.

In The Godfather II (1974), Francis Ford Coppola's enormously successful sequel to The Godfather, he played the young Pete Clemenza (the character played by Richard S. Castellano in the first film). The first film in which he used the name Bruno Kirby was Between the Lines (1977), Joan Micklin Silver's little-seen movie about an alternative newspaper in which he gave a delightful portrayal of one of the paper's quirkier reporters. He worked prolifically in television, including a five-year run in the education drama Room 222 (1969-74), and such series as Fame, Columbo, Kojak and Hill Street Blues.

He also played in the bitingly funny parody of a rock documentary, This Is Spinal Tap (1984) prior to playing the role that launched the most notable phase of his movie career, that of 2nd Lt Steven Hauk in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). Kirby was hilarious as the inept director of Robin Williams' morning radio show, fanatically keen on polka music and a self-deluded would-be comedian with no trace of talent. (Kirby once described himself as a fanatical fan of Frank Sinatra.)

Two years later he played Billy Crystal's best friend and the sweetheart of Carrie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally (1989), the hit romantic comedy that gave him his greatest exposure to date. He was then third-billed to Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick in Andrew Bergman's delightfully droll and witty gangster pastiche, The Freshman (1990), with Brando giving a wicked reprise of his Don Corleone impersonation as an "importer" who smuggles endangered species into the United States. Broderick played a naïve young film student who arrives in the big city and immediately has his luggage stolen by a fast-talking fake cab-driver, Kirby, who later gets him a job with Brando.

It was an outstanding performance that had stiff competition from the two leads, and the following year Kirby joined Billy Crystal again to play the optimistic Ed Furillo, one of a group of city-dwellers who try the cowboy life by driving a herd of cattle on a dude ranch, in City Slickers (1991). Kirby himself was allergic to horses and needed daily allergy injections on the set.

The following year he replaced Kevin Spacey in Neil Simon's Broadway hit and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Lost in Yonkers, playing Louie, the enigmatic small-time gangster who boasts that he "has never cried", and whose colourful stories bring some pleasure to the lives of two boys sent to live with their austere grandmother during the Second World War. Louie's sharply etched mixture of bravado and vulnerability was superbly captured by Kirby. He also directed occasionally, notably a 1995 episode of the acclaimed television series Homicide: life on the beat, titled " Heartbeat".

Kirby's film career unaccountably weakened during the Nineties, though he provided the voice of Mr Reginald "Reggie" Snout in Stuart Little (1999), but he worked often on television and he played himself in several episodes of The Larry Sanders Show (1997/98). He made frequent television appearances this year, notably in the HBO series Entourage, before being diagnosed with leukaemia.

Tom Vallance