Tony Musante, 77
Tony Musante, the actor whose career in films, television, and theater spanned more than 50 years, and who was described by his wife Jane as a “grand lover of life,” has died at the age of 77. The cause of death was unexpected complications from oral surgery. Mr. Musante died in Manhattan on Nov. 26.
Anthony Peter Musante was born in Bridgeport, Conn., on June 30, 1936, to Anthony Musante, an accountant, and the former Natalie Salerno, a schoolteacher. He graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1958 and attended a summer drama school at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., before moving to New York. He and his wife, the former Jane Sparkes, who also graduated from Oberlin, were married in 1962 and lived in Manhattan. In addition to his wife, Mr. Musante is survived by two sisters, Cecelia Sisti and Katherine Walker, and a brother, Thomas.
He is best remembered for such films as Dario Argento’s cult classic, “The Bird With The Crystal Plumage,” Stuart Rosenberg’s “The Pope From Greenwich Village,” and the highly regarded black and white social drama “The Incident,” from 1967, which had Musante sharing screen time with another young, intense actor by the name of Martin Sheen. Musante played a mob boss in the HBO series, “Oz” and also starred in the ABC television police drama, “Toma,” for two seasons in the mid-1970s. The show proved popular with viewers, but Musante famously exercised his option to leave the series in order to continue working in features, theater and other television roles.
Musante was blessed with a sharp intelligence and urban handsomeness that was coming into vogue in the 1960s, and he found himself emerging along with a group of actors that included Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Elliott Gould. Over the course of his career he worked with such directors as Robert Aldrich (“The Grissom Gang”), Abby Mann (“The Detective”), and Richard Fleischer (“The Last Run”). He acted alongside a who’s who of 20th and 21st century film stars, including Frank Sinatra, George C. Scott, Claudia Cardinale, Robert Duvall, Mickey Rourke, Michelle Pfeiffer and Mark Wahlberg. He was nominated for a primetime Emmy award in 1975 and his TV appearances ranged from “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” to “As the World Turns.”
But if Musante never achieved either the accolades or stardom of some of his peers, it was because, according to family and friends, he was interested more in diversity and experience than he was in the trappings of Hollywood glory.
“He was a grand lover of life, of acting, of family, friends, of humanity and the arts,” his wife, Jane, said in an email that was forwarded to The Block Island Times. Musante loved Block Island, she said, and served as Grand Marshal of the inaugural 4th of July Parade on the island in 1988. The Musantes bought their home on Payne Road in 1975.
During a burial service that was held at the Island Cemetery on Wednesday, Dec. 4, Jane Musante described their love of the island, which she called a “refuge” and a “sanctuary for the soul.”
Under a calm, blue sky, Musante was described as a man of integrity — a word used more than once — and a person of grace and harmony. Jane Musante said that her husband was never happier when the lives of his friends were going well. Fran Migliaccio sang. Nancy Greenaway spoke of his kindness. Andre Boudreau remembered when Musante came and participated in a play he was directing.
His niece Helene seemed to sum up her uncle’s life and philosophy when she told an anecdote about something Musante said to a fellow actor on the series “Oz.” This actor was anxious and upset and “Uncle Tony” turned to him and said, to help calm him down, “Just be,” and then Helene softly repeated it once again to the crowd, “Just be.”