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RIP Robert Forster — 'Jackie Brown' Actor Dead At 78

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How Did Robert Forster Die? New Details On Death Of 'Jackie Brown' Actor At 78

Veteran actor Robert Forster passed away last week in California. A representative for the Oscar nominee says his cause of death was brain cancer and his family was with him in his final moments. He was 78 years old. Forster grew up in Rochester, New York and had originally planned to be a lawyer until he got a part in a play his senior year of college. He enjoyed some early success on Broadway and in Hollywood before finding himself out of work as an actor in the late 1980s. Everything changed for him when Quentin Tarantino cast him as Max Cherry in Jackie Brown. That role got him an Oscar nomination and reignited his career. 

How did Robert Forster die? Read on for the details. 

1. Forster's early years

Forster was born in Rochester, New York in 1941. His father Robert Wallace Foster Sr. worked as an elephant trainer for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and later as an executive for a baking supply company. His parents divorced when he was about 8-years-old and he stayed in the Rochester area to go to college. 

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2. "That's how I'm going to meet that girl!"

Forster hadn't dreamed of being an actor before he actually became one. He was at the University of Rochester, planning to go into law, when he auditioned for a play almost by accident, he told the Chicago Tribune. "I was a senior, I followed a girl into the auditorium, trying to think of something to say," he recounted. "They were doing auditions, this girl was already in the play. I said, ‘That’s how I’m gonna meet the girl!’” The play was Bye Bye Birdie and, sure enough, he got a role in the chorus after trying out. He also got the girl. She became his first wife and they had three daughters together before divorcing in 1975, according to IMDB.

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3. Broadway to Hollywood

After college, Forster went to New York to try his luck on Broadway. In 1965 he landed a role in a play called Mrs. Dally Has a Lover. It had a short run and after it closed, his agent lined up a screen test for him. He nailed the test and became one of the last people put under studio contract at 20th Century Fox. His first film was Reflections in a Golden Eye, which starred legendary actors Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. Forster made quite an impression in the movie: the role called for him to ride horseback naked.


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Forster in Reflections of a Golden Eye.

4. Steady work for a while

Once he got going in LA, Forster had a number of years of steady work in films and television. He was cast in small movies like The Stalking Moon and Medium Cool in the late 1960s. In 1971, he was cast as a detective in the short-lived TV series Banyon. His most memorable film part in the 1980s was in the Chuck Norris flick The Delta Force. But in the years that followed that, the opportunities dried up and he found himself hard up for acting work. He took to teaching classes to make ends meet.  

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5. Career ups and downs

Forster recalled the lean years of his career as a time when he had to refocus. "I went 21 months without a job. I had four kids, I took any job I could get," Forster told the Chicago Tribune in 2018. "My career went like this for five years and then like that for 27. Every time it reached a lower level I thought I could tolerate, it dropped some more, and then some more. Near the end I had no agent, no manager, no lawyer, no nothing. I was taking whatever fell through the cracks." He went on to say "[But] you know what, everything teaches you something. The job of real life is the job of caring for others. Everything you do in life is superfluous compared to that.”

6. Quentin Tarantino to the rescue

Forster had been barely working as an actor when the script for Jackie Brown came his way. In fact, the script had been written with him in mind, as he found out later. In an interview with Fandor, Forster described being passed over for an earlier Tarantino film. "I had auditioned for Reservoir Dogs. I thought I was going to get it so it came as a big surprise when I walked out of that audition thinking that I had just hit it out of the park, and then Quentin comes out after me and says, "Look, this isn't going to work. I'm going to give this part to [Lawrence Tierney], but I won't forget you."

Tarantino was as good as his word. When he was crafting the script for Jackie Brown, he had Forster in his mind for the role of Max Cherry, Forster remembers. "Years had gone by and I ran into him in a coffee shop. By then my career was really, really dead and we blah-blah’d for a few minutes and then six months later he showed up at the same coffee shop with a script in his hands and handed it to me," he recalled. "When I read it I could hardly believe that he had me in mind for Max Cherry except that nothing else made any sense, so when I asked him about it he said, 'Yes, it's Max Cherry that I wrote for you.' That's when I said to him, 'I'm sure they're not going to let you hire me.' He said, 'I hire anybody I want.' And that's when I realized I was going to get another shot at a career."

Years later, Forster credited Tarantino with giving him his career back. "It brought it back. I had no career, my career was dead. I had no agent, no manager, no lawyer, no nothing. And eventually, as I say, I ran into Quentin in a coffee shop and this guy gave me a gift the size of which cannot be exaggerated: He gave me a career back and the last fourteen years have been fabulous."

He was nominated for an Oscar for Jackie Brown.

7. The last years of his career

In the final years of his acting career, Forster was known for his gritty, character roles. He was cast in the 2017 reboot of Twin Peaks and did a guest role as on the series Breaking Bad. His character Ed also appears in the Breaking Bad movie El Camino. He also appeared as Bud Baxter on Last Man Standing from 2012 to 2018.

Forster died in Los Angeles on October 11. He was 78 years old. 

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.