Character actor Bruno Kirby has died, and “Babyfishmouth!” is what I remember best about him. The man has dozens of credits, most of them supporting roles, but what sticks with me is that game of Pictionary from When Harry Met Sally. Billy Crystal has the punchline, but Kirby’s setup is what makes it priceless. His two teamings with Crystal – as the latter’s best pal in both WHMS and City Slickers – are probably Kirby’s most indelible work. (I’ll always thank him for steering clear of City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curley’s Gold.)
This is the usual refrain when a character actor dies, but it’s true: It takes a special sort of performer to back the lead, blah blah, enriching a scene without stealing the focus. Cliché? Perhaps. But it’s also true. Kirby will always be remembered as that perfect pal, the faithful retainer – a fate that may have been sealed early on, when he made his big breakthrough playing young Peter Clemenza in The Godfather Part II. Kirby had subordination down to a science – yet he was never any kind of pushover or patsy. He even had the stones to play up his second banana-ness with a hilarious recurring arc playing himself on The Larry Sanders Show, culminating in the ultimate second-tier celeb indignity: getting bumped from the sign-off show.
Jeez, he was just on Entourage! (Though mostly in bed, if I recall.) Poor Bruno Kirby. We’ll miss you, sir. Everything you were in, you made it better. How many can say that?