Actor Paul Gleason died Saturday (May 27, 2006) at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank of the rare lung cancer Mesothelioma. I am familiar with this disease because my father's best friend died from it in 2002. Gleason and my father's friend had similar circumstances while in their teens and twenties as both of them worked with/had close contact with their fathers who worked construction in some form or another, which dealt with asbestos...the root of Mesothelioma.
Gleason was born on May 4, 1939 in Jersey City, NY but raised in Miami, Florida. He was a man of many talents starting with sports. Gleason played football, basketball and baseball at Florida State University where, according to Johnny Holliday's book Johnny Holliday from Rock to Jock, was nicknamed "Bags" because his teammates swore that he wore the same athletic supporter for the entire 4 years at FSU. He graduated in 1966.
During the 50s Gleason played Triple A level baseball with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox farm teams. He loved to play the game but he remained a lifelong fan of baseball and was frequently seen in the Red Sox clubhouse or out on the field during batting practice.
I vaguely recall that he played in at least a few Hollywood Stars Nights (not the minor league Stars of Gilmore field) at Dodger Stadium over the years. The "Hollywood Stars" played against the big leaguers once each year during the season, before a regular game, for charity...many teams have similar types of games once or twice a year.
Gleason got the urge to act while watching Splendor in the Grass (1961) with good friend, and father of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac (widely known for his novel On The Road). He then traveled to New York where he studied under Lee Strasburg at the Actors Studio and on to do many theatre productions (including the revival of The Front Page (1972), with John Lithgow), film and TV productions over the following 40 odd years.
For many people Gleason will forever remembered for his role as Principal Richard "Dick" Vernon in the now classic 1985 John Hughes film The Breakfast Club..."Mess with the bull you get the horns". Which totally overshadowed his role as **Jeremitt Towani in Ewoks: The Battle for Endor released that same year. For others Gleason was etched into the brains as the corporate spy, Clarence Beeks, in Trading Places (1983) with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd..."Back off or I'll rip out your eyes and piss on your brain!"
Gleason also wrote poetry and published a book called Uleta Blues & Haikus - Songs, Poesy, Sketches which was filled with his collected writings on growing up in America, poetry, drawings, humorous and satirical tales involving baseball, films, Hollywood, his friend Jack Kerouac, time travel and baseball legend Ted Williams
He was once married to Monty Hall's daughter Joanna Hall but had been married to Susan Gleason until his death on Saturday. He is survived by his wife, a son, a daughter and a granddaughter.
RIP Mr. Gleason.
PS - I haven't been able to update the site with this info as I am not at home for the next couple of days.
**He was the second to play the role of Jeremitt Towani, the first was actor Guy Boyd for the Ewok Adventures (1984)