The actor Tony Musante has died, at age 77, from complications following oral surgery. Musante was one of those actors who were fabled for having walked away from their biggest shot at riches and fame: He agreed to star in the 1973 TV show Toma, in which he played a fictionalized version of the real-life Newark undercover detective David Toma, but only if he retained the right to leave after one season. The producers reportedly agreed, assuming it was just a negotiating tactic. But after 22 episodes, when the show did well enough with viewers and critics to merit renewal, Musante did indeed quit, having decided that he preferred the variety offered by stage and movie work to the TV grind. (After being extensively retooled to suit the persona of Robert Blake, Toma was relaunched a year later as Baretta.)
Before starring in Toma, Musante had appeared in several movies, including Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970), The Last Run (1971) with George C. Scott, and Robert Aldrich’s The Grissom Gang (1971). A year after leaving the show, he starred on Broadway in P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, and was nominated for an Emmy Award for a guest appearance on Medical Center.
Musante co-starred with Meryl Streep in one her first Broadway appearances, in a 1976 production of Tennessee Williams’ 27 Wagons Full Of Cotton. He also had roles in The Pope Of Greenwich Village (1984), The Deep End Of The Ocean (1999), and two modern noirs by the writer-director James Grey, The Yards (1999) and We Own The Night (2007). In 1997, he returned to series TV as Nino Schibetta, the leader of the Italian-American group of convicts in the first season of HBO’s Oz, where [spoiler alert] his character was killed off before Musante had the chance to decide whether he wanted to return for a second season.