A Lee Strasberg vet, Gleason was a character actor who specialized in prigs, pricks, and prickly authority figures. He was the stiff-necked police lieutenant who didn’t want to help Bruce Willis in Die Hard – and got mercilessly dressed down for it by the hero. He was memorably violated by a gorilla in Trading Places. And that, for good or for ill, was how we liked him: suffering for the sins of all the faceless autocrats whose boots we’ve felt in our backsides since elementary school.
But Gleason gave his pricks depth, pathos, even a secret humility, as in The Breakfast Club. Who can forget the frightened, flummoxed look on Principal Richard Vernon’s face after his epic battle with Bender (Judd Nelson), where he pretends not to hear the parting “F— you!”? Who can forget his pathetic and terrifying invitation to “take one good swing”?
So knock one back on a school night for a working actor of the old school. We messed with the bull, we got the horns, and we’ll miss that.