Born February 12, 1924, one of six children of immigrants from Croatia, he grew up during the Great Depression in Chicago’s South Side. His burgeoning interest in art, music, and theatre found early inspiration in the Dick Tracy” and Joe Palooka comic strips, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, and Verdi operas.
Louis served in a platoon of engineering firefighters attached to General George Patton’s 5th Army during World War II, taking him through England, France, and Germany, and upon return, he attended Roosevelt College on the GI Bill. An inside tip and fateful bet on a horse named Cherokee Pilot paid his way at the Goodman School of Drama.
When he left drama school, Louis never had to take on a non-acting job, one of several facts of his life that led him to self-describe his path as “beating the odds.” His six-decades-long acting career brought him on stage and screen. Some of his most memorable performances include Death of a Salesman, She Loves Me, The Odd Couple, Henry IV (Parts I and II), City of Hope, Fiddler on the Roof, Coogan’s Bluff, Muppets Take Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge, and Mad About You, among hundreds of theatrical and television appearances combined.
Louis and his wife, Olympia Dukakis, were founding members of the Whole Theatre in Montclair, New Jersey, an award-winning company that thrived for nearly 20 years. Together, they helped build a community of artists and families that remained an integral part of their lives. In their house at 222 Upper Mountain Avenue, they raised their children Christina, Peter and Stefan.
Through the childhood years they lived with several dogs, not all completely obedient, and housed a fair share of undocumented immigrant artists. When Louis wasn’t working, he could normally be found holding court around the kitchen table with whichever random visitor happened to wander in, as they often did. Louis was one of the first and most fierce proponents of recycling, and continued his practice adamantly his entire life.
No matter the iconic characters Louis played, from Uncle Ben to Falstaff to King Lear, he was also a larger-than-life character offstage. His thunderous voice could shake the room with his laughter and frequent use of colorful language. His penchant for storytelling led him to author two books, What Have You Done?, an anthology of audition stories collected from many of his colleagues, and his memoir, Beating the Odds. His desk and dining table held piles of writing projects and crossword puzzles.
Louis described his artistic process as more intuitive than intellectual. Although he acted with great technical skill and preparation, he discovered how the subconscious plays into acting, how he drew deeply from life experiences. Perhaps because he valued such stories, he knew how to be present with others, offering his undivided attention and curiosity to any individual, no matter their stature. Anyone who has connected with Louis Zorich will know this with gratitude.
For his family and friends, Louis Zorich’s life story is one of great learning, love, and empowering laughter. His life was truly a portrait of an artist, humbled and heartened by the human condition. What he offered in the theater of life was an awe-inspiring level of humanity, dedication, incredible humility, kindness, and generosity of spirit.
Louis is survived by his wife of 55 years, Olympia, his sister Helen, his children, Christina, Peter, and Stefan, and his grandchildren, Isabella, Sofia, Luka, and Erlinda.