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Moriarty Says Goodbye To Michael Jeter

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

The first time I saw Michael Jeter’s work was in THE FISHER KING.

I guess it wasn’t technically the first time I saw him. His first film was Milos Forman’s HAIR in 1979, which I saw at the theater with my family. He was also onscreen in small roles in films like RAGTIME, ZELIG, and THE MONEY PIT, all of which I saw first-run. He made an appearance in MILLER’S CROSSING, a film I watched over and over with a near-religious zeal when it came out, but it was John Turturro and J.E. Freeman and Jon Polito and even Steve Buscemi who made impressions on me in that film. Not Jeter.

No... it was a year later when he finally played the role that made him impossible to overlook. In Terry Gilliam’s brilliant and lively THE FISHER KING, homeless lunatic Perry (Robin Williams) is obssessed with his dream girl, the eccentric and unapproachable Lydia (Amanda Plummer). He follows her, watching her, Gilliam’s New York practically morphing into a fantasy pop-up book all around her as seen through Perry’s eyes of love. Perry has no idea how to tell her what he’s been feeling, withdrawn in fear until burnt-out disc jockey Jack (Jeff Bridges), looking to make amends for ruining Perry’s life in the first place, prods him into taking action. Perry being Perry, his courting skills are rather unique, and he sends in another homeless man, an excessively flamboyant drag queen who Perry rescues from a gay-bashing. His job is to deliver Lydia with notification that she’s won “first prize” in a fake contest.

Jeter is a remarkable sight gag when he makes his way through the publishing company where Lydia works, a massive balloon boquet clenched in his tiny, bony fist. He looks like the balloons are about to carry him away, but the moment he starts belting out a medley of show tunes, all customized so the lyrics are about Lydia, he’s enormous, a titan, one of the great movie moments of that year. It was enough to guarantee that I never had to try to remember Michael Jeter again; he was impossible to forget.

TV viewers got to know Jeter as Herman Stiles, a supporting player on EVENING SHADE, the Burt Reynolds sitcom from the early ‘90s. At the same time, he continued to turn in strong supporting work in films like WATERWORLD, MOUSE HUNT, and (in an especially hilarious cameo) FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS.

The first time I actually saw Michael Jeter work was on the set of Frank Darabont’s THE GREEN MILE.

That set was like a master’s class in the art of film acting for an observer like me. I was given free reign to skulk about the sets, watching. They shot the majority of the film less than five minutes from my house. Tom Hanks, one of the biggest movie stars in the world, was the very definition of generosity in terms of his work with the exceptional supporting cast. David Morse, Graham Greene, Jeff DeMunn, Harry Dean Stanton, James Cromwell, Bonnie Hunt, Sam Rockwell, and Doug Hutchison all did memorable work in the movie, but the thing that fascinated me most on set was the work by Jeter as Eduard Delacroix. For anyone who knew the novella by Stephen King, Del was one of the key characters of the piece, if only for his relationship with Mr. Jingles, a small white mouse, or perhaps for his notorious “bad death.”

Jeter was hilarious when cameras weren’t rolling, a man with a wicked wit and an open, approachable manner. Both of my parents are from Memphis, which is where Jeter, a Tennessee native, went to college, and his recollections of the city made for several long conversations.

The last time I saw Michael Jeter was at the GREEN MILE premiere.

He was already sick by that point, but he was determined not to let it stop him. He made flip remarks about the bad news that doctors kept delivering, sure that he’d outlast any of their predictions. He did, too, and he kept working. THE GIFT, JURASSIC PARK III, and WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD all benefitted from his presence, and although I didn’t watch it myself, he evidently connected with a new, younger generation of viewers in his role as “Mr. Noodles” on SESAME STREET.

Production was shut down at the start of the week on THE POLAR EXPRESS, the Robert Zemeckis film currently shooting at the Sony Studios in Culver City, a project which reunited Jeter with Tom Hanks. Sony issued a statement saying Jeter had completed all but one scene, and adjustments will be made to guarantee that his work makes it into the final film. The picture isn’t set for release until Christmas 2004. In the meantime, he’s also in Kevin Costner’s upcoming Western, OPEN RANGE.

Great character actors improve every film they’re in with the integrity and the honesty of their work. Jeter also improved every set he was on with the force of his personality. He will be sorely missed by friends, family, and fans. He was 51 years old.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • April 3, 2003, 5:12 a.m. CST

    Sadly Missed

    by DrGonzo69

    Along with JT Walsh Jetter will be another great character actor that I'll greatly miss. He may not have had the biggest output but he's left us with some gems to savour. And the film world is sadly another character lighter

  • April 3, 2003, 5:15 a.m. CST

    Sorry, had to vent about the lack of posts ...

    by Ronnie_Dobbs

    ... but glad to see someone else cares enough to beat me to it with a much longer talkback. Always a day late and a dollar short. Seriously, though, Jeter's work in The Green Mile, Fear and Loathing and, especially, The Fisher King (one of my favorite movies ever) is truly unforgettable. He will be missed.

  • April 3, 2003, 5:16 a.m. CST

    Cant wait to see him in Welcome to Collinwood

    by Heleno

    Such a sad loss. ONe of those people who enriches every film he touches. Character actors like him breathe life into films in a way that stars often fail to do. he will be missed.

  • April 3, 2003, 5:42 a.m. CST

    Didn't realise that he'd been in so many good movies. RIP.

    by BadSonix

    He'd worked with Darabont, Spielberg, The Coens et al AND he'd been in Sesame Street! RIP.

  • April 3, 2003, 6:15 a.m. CST

    sad news

    by reni

    Sad news. God Bless you Micheal. Fisher King was genius.

  • April 3, 2003, 6:23 a.m. CST

    this guy was unique and sincere....duh.

    by goatboy500

    kudos to moriarty for mentioning the fisher king scene, one of my favourites ever, but mr jeter was best in fear and loathing...the venom in his voice when he says the word 'cooool' is fuckin priceless. this man is up there with borgnine, lq jones, john cazale, and all the other amazing character actors, guys who just didn't have the face for leading man status, but imbued their craft with a sincerity and honesty which made them unforgettable. from miller's crossing: 'hey, do horses have knees?'..'i dunno..fetlocks?'..'well if i was a horse i'd be on my fetlocks praying you dont bet on me'. rip mr jeter

  • April 3, 2003, 6:25 a.m. CST

    I loved that guy. What a great character actor.

    by Monkey_King

    He just filmed WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD in my hometown last year. I was even on the set for a bit. What a great guy. He will be missed.

  • April 3, 2003, 6:29 a.m. CST

    Very sad, and affected me even more because...

    by Dr_Zoidberg

  • April 3, 2003, 6:36 a.m. CST

    Very sad, and affected me even more because... (full post)

    by Dr_Zoidberg

    I had just watched Welcome To Collinwood at an advanced screening (I live in the UK and it comes out APRIL 25TH). While I thought the film was funny (if a little flat), I still had a great time watching all these characters interact. Jeter was perhaps the funniest character and the one you felt something for (and William H Macy). When I heard of his death it sort of hit me, because I had just seen this man being great, and now he is gone. Very sad and I will miss him.

  • When I think of Michael Jeter, to me, he's synonymous with Eduard Delacroix. He's that little man from The Green Mile who trained that little mouse. And he's that man on Sesame Street who teams up with Elmo in the mornings here on our tv in Australia to educate children. Seeing as we're around two years or so behind you in america, I can look forward to my son/daughter (sex unknown yet, it isnt born for another six months) watching his work with Elmo. Personally, I remember that no matter what movie I saw him in, he always stood out, even in that horrible Jurassic Park 3. I remember watching him in the Green Mile, one of the few movies Ive cried in in the cinema. I'll possibly forget your name, but I'll never forget your face or voice. Goodbye Mr Jeter, you made a lot of people happy with your art. I argued on chat the other night that no actor should be called an 'artist' until they achieved something worthy of being called art. Michael Jeter was an artist, a brilliantly talented one. Goodbye Mr Jeter, and good luck wherever you are. Through your art you will be remembered for many a year to come.

  • April 3, 2003, 7:10 a.m. CST

    Thanks Moriarty

    by Elwood Blues

    It's good to see Michael Jeter get the respective he deserves. Thanks for the tribute.

  • April 3, 2003, 7:36 a.m. CST

    Thanks Michael Jeter...

    by Otter

    ... for all the great work. I just watched "Welcome to Collinwood",and he was one of the best characters in the movie.

  • April 3, 2003, 7:37 a.m. CST

    very sad..

    by JAGUART

    he cracked me up in the Fisher King

  • April 3, 2003, 7:47 a.m. CST

    Goodbye to Mr. Noodle's brother Mr. Noodle

    by KajiC

    Yeah, I first remember seeing him in The Fisher King, too, and he stuck in my head. I was surprised to see him show up on the "Elmo's World" segment of Sesame Street but hey, they get *everybody*. Intering fellow, I don't think I probably ever appreciated the full range of his talents, but he will be missed.

  • April 3, 2003, 8:11 a.m. CST

    I'd forgotten...

    by Dru

    ...about 'The Fisher King.' Like 1 poster already said, I will always remember Jeter as Edouard Delacroix. He turned in an amazing performance. I think my favourite, however, is his scene with Robin Williams in "Patch Adams" (I know, I know) when they are shooting the 'squirrels' so Jeter can get to the bathroom. The playfulness, the innocence as he gets caught up in William's fantasy in that scene is just incredible. It made me laugh every time I saw it, + I expect it'll make me sigh from now on. Vichnaya pamyat Michael Jeter. Out.

  • April 3, 2003, 8:21 a.m. CST

    Jeter's Angel

    by Gregorso

    Aside from his big screen work, I remember Jeter's outstanding performance in a "Twilite Zone"-style episode of TV's "Touched by an Angel". He played a humble salesman who is pushed to the edge in a deal with the Devil. R.I.P.

  • April 3, 2003, 9:01 a.m. CST


    by dougmac

    No that the movie was good by any means, but I remember him being really funny as the bad guy in the Air Bud movie that my nephew used to wwatch every day for a year.

  • April 3, 2003, 9:10 a.m. CST

    Everything's coming up VIDEO!

    by jrcash

    That's been stuck in my head for several years. Proof of how good an actor he was.

  • April 3, 2003, 9:42 a.m. CST

    Goodbye Mr. Noodle.

    by Wee Willie

    You won't ever be forgotten.

  • April 3, 2003, 10:01 a.m. CST

    "You take him, John. You take him until this foolishness be done

    by Osmosis Jones

    God, this is sad news. Jeter was absolutely heartbreaking in The Green Mile, making his goodbye scene with A MOUSE (quoted above) into one of the most tear-jerking scenes in a movie crammed with tear-jerking scenes. Farewell, Mr. Jeter. May there be a special place in Heaven for first-rate character actors such as yourself and J.T. Walsh. "I done tame me dat mouse!"

  • April 3, 2003, 10:02 a.m. CST

    He was so freakin awesome in Jp3

    by DavidCamp

    Sure, it was no oscar winner...but for us hardcore fans, Jeter was sure as hell one of the stand outs in JP3. Udesky kicked so much ass, every one-liner they gave Jeter rocked...and his death scene in that movie was so unbelievably cool... a pity the extended version in which his legs got slashed was cut by Johnston in post-production. One thing that I would have liked to ask Jeter before his death though would've been HOW THE HELL DID YOU GET THE CAMERA TO WORK WITH THE TORCH BATTERIES!!!!!!

  • April 3, 2003, 10:20 a.m. CST

    No one's mentioned Drop Zone yet...

    by Salem Hanna's not a great film, but it's better than Terminal Velocity and Jeter was good in it. Same with JP3. Sometimes, you need a character actor to some class to a popcorn flick.

  • April 3, 2003, 10:21 a.m. CST

    I forgot the word 'add'...

    by Salem Hanna

    I meant 'add' some class. Sorry.

  • April 3, 2003, 11:02 a.m. CST

    Moriarty says goodbye to pant size 46

    by Just-A-Guy

    Curse you Krispy Kreme, curse you!!!!

  • April 3, 2003, 11:38 a.m. CST


    by Exalay

    Not since Raul Julia has someone's death made me gasp aloud. It's very, very nice to read how many others noticed and loved Mr. Jeter's amazing roles. 

  • April 3, 2003, 11:40 a.m. CST

    "No, I just love laying here bleeding in horseshit."

    by Andy Travis

    For some reason instead of the more memorable singing telegram scene in The Fisher King, I always immediately remember the scene of him lying in the muck waiting for a debutant on a horse to step on him. A great actor, indeed.

  • April 3, 2003, 11:41 a.m. CST

    Michael Jeter in Fisher King

    by Ephus

    Everyone keeps talking about Jeter's brauvura performance of the "Lydia" song in Fisher King, but, in my opinion, his greatest moment in that film came a few minutes later when he described how he came to be so screwed up. IIRC, he followed a litany of bizarre statements with, "And, of course, seeing most of your good friends die." At that moment, I stopped laughing at Jeter's character and started seeing a shell-shocked veteran. Remember, when the Fisher King came out, empathy for AIDS sufferers was not widespread. I am sure that Michael Jeter, in his last years, benefited from the tolerance that he helped to teach. I hope that he also was able to take comfort in knowing that he provided that benefit to thousands of others whom he never met.

  • April 3, 2003, 11:57 a.m. CST


    by Raimiac

    The first film I remember seeing Mr. Jeter in was The Fisher King. I remember I couldn

  • April 3, 2003, 12:09 p.m. CST

    Pappa Fett

    by Ephus

    Obviously, the enlightenment that Mr. Jeter attempted to bring to the world has not reached you. Your loss.

  • April 3, 2003, 12:21 p.m. CST

    First Mr. Rogers, Now Mr. Noodles

    by You Are Banned

    Damn. My kids were watching Sesame Street this morning and Jeter was on it as Mr. Noodles. So sad. Are all the good people being taken before Bush ends the world as we know it?

  • April 3, 2003, 2:02 p.m. CST

    "The Boys Next Door" - Hallmark Hall Of Fame

    by jasher78

    If you want to see a great adaptation of a great play, see if you can find this on video. Michael Jeter is great in it as a neurotic mentally handicapped guy obsessed with cleaning. The rest of the cast is great. I highly recommend it. It's where I first met Jeter. It's where I'll remember him. He was fantastic.

  • April 3, 2003, 2:17 p.m. CST

    Jeter! who

    by Wyrdy the Gerbil

    thats the first thing that came to mind who`s is he, then i read a bit more and the mouse loving prisoner was mentioned and i put a face to the name ...people die thats just the way it is but sometimes they touch us inside,i may not remember his name tomorrow but i will remember the charactors he played...always

  • April 3, 2003, 3:07 p.m. CST

    Another giant in a small body.

    by Skylord2,+Michael ....... so long, Michael. Thanks for all the laughs, all the tears and all the great lines. -------- I last saw Michael in COLLINWOOD. He made that flick, if you ask me. Him in that bathrobe was downright hysterical. At least we have two more movies of his to look forward to.

  • April 3, 2003, 3:13 p.m. CST

    Was Pretty Good In 'Thursday' too...

    by mrnick1091

    For anyone who missed this film (a little on the over-stylized side, but entertaining nonetheless) Jeter has a small but effective role as a psychiatrist interviewing Thomas Jane for a potential adoption. Another supporting part that Jeter put his all into.

  • April 3, 2003, 4:54 p.m. CST

    South of Heaven, West of Hell...

    by Ivan_Mtl

    ... was the last movie that I saw the very talented Mr. Jeter in. Even though he was one of the 'villians' in the movie (alongside Vince Vaughn and Pee Wee Herman/Paul Ruebens - how's that for a cast?), you still could not help but like him. His warm personality just shone through in every role. He will be sadly missed but never forgotten thanks to the magic of movies.

  • April 3, 2003, 5:18 p.m. CST

    Evening Shade

    by the G-man

    I used to watch this otherwise forgetable sitcom because of Jeter's work. Not unlike Don Knotts he took a character who could have been a characature and made him eminently watchable.

  • April 3, 2003, 5:45 p.m. CST

    I remember when

    by dutchy

    he won his Tony Award for Grand Hotel. He sure danced his little heart away in that. RIP.

  • April 3, 2003, 5:57 p.m. CST

    Jeter was one of the coolest character actors around. He will b

    by Elgyn6655321

  • April 3, 2003, 6:05 p.m. CST

    How about his smarmy lawyer in "The Gift", that was a good role.

    by Elgyn6655321

  • April 3, 2003, 7:56 p.m. CST

    "They call it a 'roach' because it resembles .. A COCKROACH!"

    by Tall_Boy

    his F&LILV cameo rules all

  • April 3, 2003, 10:20 p.m. CST


    by TomVee

    One film no one mentioned: SISTER ACT 2, pretty much an abomination (and ripoff of TO SIR WITH LOVE)except for the presence of several terrific character actors including Jeter as math teacher Father Ignatius. He is excellent as always, and lightens up a bad film. If you watch this film to the very end, you will get to see a funny throwaway bit where Jeter in his flowing brown robes plays tag with an overhead boom mike. (Barnard Huges, who plays Father Maurice, the head of the school, has a truly wonderful, tear-jerking moment near the end when he has his students gathered round him.)

  • April 4, 2003, 12:10 a.m. CST

    I'm so damn sad

    by HarmoniumSaver

    I heard he died a couple years ago, but that was somebody else with a similar name, and I was sad. And now I'm going through the same thing.

  • April 4, 2003, 1:27 a.m. CST

    took ya long enough

    by jules windex

    I wondered if AICN did not care about Michael Jeter. A nice tribute by Moriarty. I especially liked Jeter's performances in Green Mile and The Gift(a superb film that never got the accolades it deserved). Too bad he got stuck in that awful 3rd Jurassic Park. It's gonna suck not seeing him in any more work.

  • April 4, 2003, 2:47 a.m. CST

    Hey, Poppa Fett...

    by Ronnie_Dobbs

    Fuck you, too, and guess what else: Fuck George Lucas and fuck STAR WARS! In fact fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckitty fuck!

  • April 4, 2003, 4:20 a.m. CST

    Bad Movie+

    by tbarnes

    Did anyone like the Fisher King?

  • April 4, 2003, 11:01 a.m. CST

    F*CK ME! First, Lynne Thigpen dies wit barely a mention, then Mi

    by Redbeard_NV

    This is bullshit! The body of work that these two actors had filling the resumes would make them gods in old Hollywood. But new Hollywood is more concerned about finding a way to bash Bush for not being a slobbering, dumbass synchophant like Bill Clinton, they can't even take the time on national news broadcasts to pay homage, leaving a 1/8 page by line in TV Guide! Not right, people, not right at all! God bless you Lynne, for the Cheif in Carmen San Deigo, for the DJ in Warriors, and so much more. Thank you Michael, for The Green Mile and Mr. Jingles, for Drop Zone, for surviving against the odds with AIDS.

  • April 4, 2003, 1:30 p.m. CST

    That was Michael Jeter in MILLER'S CROSSING?

    by Nordling

    Shit. Didn't know that. That's one of my favorite scenes in that movie, too. And yes, Jeter was amazingly great in FISHER KING. This is fairly late to post, but he'll be missed.

  • April 4, 2003, 2:22 p.m. CST

    Jeter in "The Naked Man"

    by finishdish

    Check out Jeter in this "wrastling" picture written by E. Coen, directed by J. Todd Anderson. Miss you Mike.

  • April 4, 2003, 2:39 p.m. CST

    r.i.p. michael jeter.

    by drjones

    i guess his delacroix role will be burnt into my brain forever! i mean he had such a presence on screen. 51...*sigh*

  • April 5, 2003, 4:01 a.m. CST


    by Ronnie_Dobbs

    Since you asked: no, I didn't "like" THE FISHER KING ---- I LOVED THE FISHER KING!!! There is more joy, pain, despair, and hope in that film than any other I've seen; probably more than some people experience in their entire lives. It is undoubtedly Robin Williams's greatest performance, as well as Jeff Bridges's (not to underscore Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski); Mercedes Reuhl is also fantastic, as is Amanda Plummer. But the single most unforgettable moment in the film really does belong to Michael Jeter. "If you like porno, we're your connection ...." With the possible exception of BRAZIL, I would even venture to say this is Gilliam's best film. So chew on that.