Ed Lauter: US character actor dies aged 74

Ed Lauter Lauter's family are setting up a charitable foundation in his name

American character actor Ed Lauter, recently seen in the Oscar-winning The Artist, has died aged 74, it has been announced.

Lauter played chauffer to the female character Peppy Miller, played by Oscar nominee actress Berenice Bejo.

Publicist Edward Lozzi said Lauter died on Wednesday of mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung, commonly caused by asbestos exposure.

He also starred in ER and opposite Burt Reynolds in 1974's The Longest Yard.

Released under the title of The Mean Machine in the UK, Lauter played a sadistic prison guard whose team squares up to Reynolds' team of misfit convicts in a game of American Football.

He also starred in a 2005 remake, starring Adam Sandler.

The original landed him a starring role in Alfred Hitchcock's final movie Family Plot in 1976.

Last year, Lauter starred with Clint Eastwood and Justin Timberlake in the baseball movie Trouble With the Curve.

The actor, who started out as a stand up comic was also famed for his impersonations of movie stars.

Lozzi told the Hollywood Reporter: "He called me as Clint Eastwood from the set of Trouble With the Curve last year. We really thought it was Eastwood!"

The Longest Yard Lauter (front-left) often played stern authority figures

He was also known to do impersonations of black and white stars James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.

Born in Long Island, New York in 1938, Lauter made his Broadway debut in the original 1968 stage production of The Great White Hope, which also starred James Earl Jones.

His TV debut was came in a 1971 episode of private eye series Mannix and he made his first big screen appearance in the Western, Dirty Little Billy.

Standing at 6ft 2in and prematurely bald with a long, square face, Lauter was often cast as thugs or stern authority figures.

He was quoted as saying: "I like those roles. Lee Marvin once told me, 'When you play a heavy, every once in a while make the audience like you a little bit. Then they'll think, 'Wait a minute, he's not such a bad guy. Did you see the way he petted that dog?'"

Lauter played the recurring character Dick Healy in the US version of Shameless and had several projects in post-production.

A charitable foundation is being established to honour his work and an annual scholarship fund will be awarded to aspiring young actors.

His family, which includes four children and his wife of eight years, Mia, have asked that donations be made to the foundation.

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