Robert Swan (1944-2023)
Robert Swan, an actor who played an instrumental part of the early days of Chicago theater in the 70s - and known for film roles in Hoosiers, Rudy, The Untouchables and The Babe - has died of cancer at the age of 78 at his home in Rolling Prairie IN. Robert shared the stage with Barbara Gaines, Mike Nussbaum, and Frank Galati, and walked the boards at the now-long-gone Orphan Pub, as well as early productions at Goodman Theatre, and inaugural productions at Northlight and Court Theaters.
Robert was particularly proud of his active role in Actor’s Equity, expanding opportunities for actors and producing companies alike. In his own words: “I produced a production of “The Lesson by Ionesco” at the Orphans Pub on the near north side, creating along with it a new kind of contract allowing Equity actors to perform in new spaces called the COLT contract, which helped give rise to a bunch of theater groups, including a new outfit called Steppenwolf. The play, which featured Barbara Gaines as the Student and Mike Nussbaum in his directorial debut, was, by itself, nominated for more Jefferson awards than all the productions at Goodman that year.”
Robert began his foray into entertainment as a singer, bringing his bass baritone talents to various choirs in Illinois. Stints with the Lyric Opera and Chicago Symphony during his 20s ultimately led to stage roles. Robert himself describes his beginnings: “I began my theatrical career by a reservoir in central Illinois. After taxes and the union admission fees, there wasn’t enough left for a room. There was always a German shepherd waiting to chase me at the bottom of the last hill as I rode the seven miles home at night on my bike”.
In the 1970s, Robert performed alongside actors Shelley Berman and Robert Conrad at Illinois’ Little Theater on the Square. He also starred as The Balladeer, one of the four original members, of the 1974 Goodman Theatre production of Brian Friel’s “The Freedom of the City” - which later went on to Broadway, as well as being in Northlight Theatre’s inaugural production of “Jumpers” directed by Frank Galati, also featuring Mike Nussbaum. Favorite roles include: holding Gregory Mosher at the end of a rope as Lucky to his Pozzo in Court Theater’s first professional production “Waiting for Godot”, and playing Wiseman in Jules Pfeiffer’s “Knock, Knock”.
Robert was an accomplished opera singer who founded Minnesota’s Harbor Country Opera, which produced “The Magic Flute,” “Les Misérables” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”
Robert’s film work includes 1980′s Somewhere in Time, and Daniel Petrie’s 1984 film The Dollmaker, starring Jane Fonda. In 1986, Robert shared the screen with Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper and Sheb Wooley in the basketball drama Hoosiers, appearing as Indiana farmer Rollin Butcher, who eventually becomes the assistant coach to Hackman’s coach Norman Dale. He also portrayed a biker in Doctor Detroit (1983), a fire chief in Grandview, U.S.A. (1984), a Mountie Captain in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), a bartender in Ron Howard’s Backdraft (1991) and detectives in Who’s That Girl (1987) and Mo’ Money (1992). In 1992, he played the father of Babe Ruth in Arthur Hiller’s The Babe starring John Goodman in the title role. In the ‘90s, Robert appeared in a number of high-profile films including Quentin Tarantino’s Natural Born Killers and Ron Howard’s Backdraft. In 1993, Robert was in another sports drama, Rudy, starring Sean Astin.
TV credits include: “All My Children”, “The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo”, “Walking Tall”, “The Twilight Zone”, “Spencer For Hire”, “Missing Persons” and “The Equalizer.”
He is survived by wife Barbara, brothers David and Charles, sister-in-law Elizabeth, nephews Christopher, Bryan and Daniel, and two dogs.
A celebration of life is being planned, to include a reading of Robert’s screenplay “The Saint and the Scoundrel”.