Jon Polito was an accomplished and extremely prolific character actor, who may not have been a household name, but enjoyed more than 100 credits in movies and TV shows, even if he didn’t start accumulating those credits until he was more than 30 years old.
Polito guest-starred on everything from Seinfeld to Miami Vice to Tales From the Crypt, while also doing voice parts on the likes of Batman Beyond and Avatar: The Last Airbender. He was also an accomplished stage actor. But Polito was best known for two things: His extensive work with the Coen Brothers, and his part as Det. Steve Crosetti on the first two seasons of the seminal 1990s cop series Homicide: Life on the Street.
We are sad to report that Polito died this week at the age of 65. His friend, the director John McNaughton, broke the news on Friday morning. The cause of death is currently unknown.
Jon Polito was born in Philadelphia in 1950. His first listed credit was in a 1981 TV mini-series called The Gangster Chronicles. Throughout the 1980s Polito appeared in lots of gangster films and TV shows, and he also appeared in a 1985 TV adaptation of Death of a Salesman. He was a regular on Crime Story between 1986 and 1988, and he had spots in multiple episodes of both Miami Vice and The Equalizer. But Polito’s most well-known role on a cop on the early seasons of Homicide: Life on the Street, though he was fired from that show early in its run due to network interference.
Polito’s long association with Joel and Ethan Coen began with his role as gangster Johnny Caspar in 1990’s Miller’s Crossing. The following year, he played Lou Breeze in the Coens’ Barton Fink. He would go on to appear in The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), The Big Lebowski (1998), and The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001). Polito was one of those actors, like John Goodman, Holly Hunter, John Turturro and Steve Buscemi, who was always uniquely well-used across multiple films by the Coens.
In his later years, Polito was a frequent presence on television, doing guest spots on such shows as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (as Danny DeVito’s brother) and Bunheads, as well as a recurring part on Modern Family as Earl Chambers, the longtime professional rival of Ed O’Neill’s character. This year, he appeared in the Comedy Bang Bang TV series on IFC and the crime drama Major Crimes. Next year’s drama The Maestro appears to be his final role.
Polito is survived by his partner of 16 years, Darryl Armbruster.