As confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, actor David Huddleston—probably best known for playing the actual Big Lebowski in the classic Coen Brothers film—has died. According to a statement from his family, he had been suffering from heart and kidney disease. Huddleston was 85.
Born in Virginia in 1930, Huddleston initially seemed set up for a career in the military. He attended the Fork Union Military Academy and became an officer in the Air Force, but he officially entered the world of acting after attending the historic American Academy Of Dramatic Arts. Most of Huddleston’s first acting roles were bit parts on TV shows, including Harrigan And Son, Adam-12, Then Came Bronson, Bewitched, and McMillan & Wife. His first big role in the movies came in 1972’s Bad Company, which starred a young Jeff Bridges—who Huddleston would memorably run into again later in his career.
Huddleston’s star continued to rise after that, getting him roles in more shows like Bonanza and The New Dick Van Dyke Show, and in 1974 he was cast in Mel Brooks’ comedy classic Blazing Saddles. Huddleston played Mayor Olson Johnson, and in a statement obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Brooks said:
It was a great privilege to work with David Huddleston on Blazing Saddles. His performance was sublime. He helped make all those Johnsons of Rock Ridge immortal. He was one of a kind and will be greatly missed.
All in all, Huddleston would go on to appear in more than 60 movies, ranging from Smokey And The Bandit II and Santa Claus: The Movie to Rio Lobo and McQ opposite John Wayne. For a lot of people, though, his most memorable role came in 1998’s The Big Lebowski. Huddleston played Jeffrey Lebowski, a supposedly wealthy businessman who Jeff Bridge’s Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski was mistaken for.
Huddleston continued appearing in small-but-memorable TV roles, popping up on The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, Jericho, and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
He is survived by his wife, son, and daughter-in-law.