Michael Jeter

Actor who played sympathetic eccentrics

Michael Jeter, actor: born Lawrenceburg, Tennessee 26 August 1952; died Los Angeles 30 March 2003

The actor Michael Jeter was probably best known to British audiences for his role opposite Burt Reynolds in the television sitcom Evening Shade.

The diminutive actor's performance as the slightly dishevelled, much put-upon assistant football coach Herman Stiles amply showcased Jeter's comedic gifts and garnered him an Emmy Award in 1992. It showed, however, only one facet of a talent that also saw him etch a series of sympathetic screen eccentrics in movies like The Fisher King (1991), Patch Adams (1998) and The Green Mile (1999).

A native Tennessean, Jeter was first drawn to acting whilst studying Medicine at Memphis State University and, on graduation, became a mainstay of the region's theatre scene. He made his Broadway début in Once in a Lifetime (1978) and spent the next few years appearing in off-Broadway productions before problems with alcohol and drug abuse forced him briefly to quit the theatre and work as a legal secretary.

In 1990 he landed the role of the terminally ill Jewish bookkeeper, Otto Kringelein, in the Broadway musical Grand Hotel, eventually winning a Tony award for his performance. Cast in Evening Shade (1990-94) alongside established stars like Reynolds, Ossie Davis, Charles Durning and Marilu Henner, he more than held his own and was nominated for an Emmy on three occasions. He received further nominations for his work in episodes of Picket Fences and Chicago Hope.

Jeter had made his movie début in 1979, briefly appearing in Milos Forman's Hair and following it with a series of minor roles. The success of Evening Shade, however, ensured that he found himself in greater demand. He appeared in the Coen Brothers' underrated gangster film Miller's Crossing (1990) and received acclaim for his performance as a homeless cabaret singer in The Fisher King (1991). He acted alongside Kevin Costner in the critically derided Waterworld (1995), played a mental patient in Patch Adams (1998) and was a luckless mercenary in Jurassic Park III (2001).

His most memorable screen role came in 1999 as the condemned prisoner Eduard Delacroix in Frank Darabont's adaptation of The Green Mile. The character's close relationship with the mouse, Mister Jingles, forms an important subplot within Stephen King's tale of miracles on Death Row, and Jeter's complex performance is highly affective.

More recently the actor had enjoyed his role as the clown-like Mr Noodle on the long-running children's show Sesame Street.

Paul Wadey

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