MOVIES

His Illness & How Old He Was When He Died

While most of the standout moments in “The Deer Hunter” feature lead stars Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken (who reunited many years later in the much more light-hearted “The War with Grandpa”), John Cazale played an important supporting role as Stan, a co-worker and hunting buddy to the film’s main friend group of Mike (De Niro), Nick (Walken), and Steven (John Savage). However, as director Michael Cimino related, he had to push hard for Cazale’s inclusion in the Vietnam War-themed epic, as production company EMI didn’t want him in the movie due to the costs associated with his terminal illness. 

“I was told that unless I got rid of John, [they] would shut down the picture,” Cimino recalled, as quoted by the Telegraph. “It was awful. I spent hours on the phone, yelling and screaming and fighting.” Similarly, Cazale’s castmates showed their support for the actor during this trying time and lobbied for his casting. “He was sicker than we thought, but I wanted him to be in it,” said De Niro, who shouldered his “Deer Hunter” co-star’s insurance so that he could appear in the movie.

With his health declining, Cazale shot his scenes in “The Deer Hunter” ahead of everyone else’s. Sadly, he died mere months later, with a brief but definitely noteworthy filmography that included parts in some of the greatest movies of the 1970s.

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