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Birth:
19 Jun 1928 1
Death:
18 Jun 2000 1
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Full Name:
Nancy Marchand 1
Birth:
19 Jun 1928 1
Death:
18 Jun 2000 1
Residence:
Last Residence: New York, NY 1
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Social Security:
Card Issued: Unknown Code (PE) 1
Social Security Number: ***-**-5990 1

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Nancy Marchand, 71, Player of Imperious Roles, Dies

Nancy Marchand, the distinguished character actress who excelled at playing wise and imperious authority figures -- newspaper publishers, queens, grande dames and a madam -- and who achieved perhaps her greatest fame as the domineering mother of a mob boss in the television series ''The Sopranos,'' died on Sunday at her home in Stratford, Conn., one day short of her 72nd birthday. She also had a home in Manhattan.

Her daughter Katie Sparer Bowe said that no specific cause of death was given, but for several years the actress had been suffering from cancer and chronic pulmonary disease.

A wide diversity of playwrights -- among them Chekhov, Shaw and Shakespeare as well as Jean Genet, Paul Osborn and A. R. Gurney -- was within Ms. Marchand's range. She once described her physical presence as ''a strange combination of being very imposing and down-to-earth,'' an accurate assessment of the seemingly contradictory image she projected.

That description could be applied to the overburdened wife she played in the 1980 Broadway revival of Osborn's ''Morning's at Seven,'' the patrician publisher on the long-running ''Lou Grant'' television series and her portrayal of Livia Soprano, the monster mother of them all, a woman bred into the Mafia who without a blink of hesitation sets up her son Tony to be assassinated because he has moved her to a nursing home.

Except for her indomitability, Livia was in direct contrast to all the ''tasteful ladies'' Ms. Marchand played in her busy career. At 70, after more than 50 years of acting, she discovered a new popularity, and it was for playing a wildly unsympathetic character. Livia Soprano was a role that she compared to that of Caligula's great-grandmother in ''I, Claudius,'' a woman who also happened to be named Livia.

Throughout her career, Ms. Marchand gave her roles an unexpected edge. Even when her characters were at their most officious, they retained a measure of charm, and her more affectionate characters could also be sardonic. She was an expert at both light and more serious comedy, moving effortlessly from the outrageous antics in the movie spoof ''The Naked Gun,'' to Lady Bracknell in ''The Importance of Being Earnest.''

In plays like ''Morning's at Seven,'' she warmed an audience's collective heart, but she never wore her own heart on her sleeve, avoiding the cul de sac of sentimentality. Instead she was wily in performance, turning in an instant from comedy to poignance.

Often she acted onstage with her husband, Paul Sparer -- in everything from ''A Phoenix Too Frequent'' by Christopher Fry to Edward Albee's ''Delicate Balance'' to Mr. Gurney's ''Love Letters.'' Mr. Sparer also had his own rewarding career in plays that included Elie Wiesel's ''Zalmen, or the Madness of God'' and ''The Burnt Flowerbed'' by Ugo Betti. Individually and together they were ultimate theatrical professionals.

Mr. Sparer died in November. In addition to her daughter Katie, an actress who lives in Stratford, Ms. Marchand is survived by a son, David of Madison, Wis.; another daughter, Rachel Sparer Bersier, an opera singer of Manhattan; and seven grandchildren.

Offstage, Ms. Marchand was the reverse of so many of her strong-willed characters, a woman with a natural sense of insecurity, someone who felt uneasy in social situations. ''I'm always very uncomfortable with people.'' she once explained in an interview in The New York Times. ''It's something that I get upset with myself for, but that's the way I am. But I love people. And when I'm on the stage, I can embrace people and still feel safe. There are a lot of different facets to my personality that I don't use all the time in my house, or in everyday life, that I can experience and share when I'm on a stage.''

Marchand's death a great loss to 'The Sopranos'

It's hard to imagine "The Sopranos" without Livia, the malevolent mother played by the late four-time Emmy winner Nancy Marchand, who died of cancer Sunday at her home in Connecticut. If James Gandolfini's Tony was the dramatic muscle of the show, and Edie Falco was the heart, Marchand was the guts -- maybe the brains, too.

Her character was as smart as anybody -- a real schemer, like the same-named bad mama from "I, Claudius" -- and she made herself more deadly by appearing frail. Or perhaps she really was frail � her body weak, her memory and emotions scrambled by Alzheimer's and a stroke � yet so full of rage and bitterness that she simply couldn't stop herself from doing horrible things. My late grandmother would have called her a real piece of work.

It's tough for a show to go on following the death of one of its most important players. Even the most crackling ensembles are staggered by real-life tragedy.

"Chico and the Man" and "Cover Up" were essentially destroyed after the deaths of their lead actors (Freddie Prinze and Jon-Erik Hexum, respectively). "NewsRadio" was severely damaged after the passing of the great Phil Hartman and limped to a close a year later. It took a couple of seasons for "Cheers" to overcome the death of Nicholas Colasanto, who played Coach; Woody Harrelson worked as a replacement partly because his dopey delivery suggested a younger version of the character. "Hill Street Blues" was hit hard by the death of Michael Conrad, the gentle-spirited sergeant who delivered the signature phrase, "Hey, let's be careful out there."

Yet all the aforementioned actors, however charming and talented, played much less complex and demanding roles than Marchand played on "The Sopranos."Creator David Chase is a dedicated and resourceful storyteller. He might find a way to paper over the gaping narrative hole created by Marchand's passing. But it's the highest praise to Chase and his writers to say that it will be difficult -- maybe impossible.

The best characters on "The Sopranos" have a couple of layers. Livia had six or seven, and the way Marchand played her, you could never be sure which ones were real and which were invented. She was in her late 60s when she donned Livia's bathrobe and slippers, but her performance was more exciting than any Method rantings by stubbly-cheeked twentysomething brooders. Her Livia moved like a tortoise, but if you think that was a handicap, ask the hares. The character's death deserved a three- or four-episode arc; now it will have to occur off screen, and the awkward real-life reasons for this approach will demand that loose ends be tied up in an hour or two.

Last January, during a press conference for the series, Chase told reporters he hadn't really planned what to do if Marchand became too ill to work (or worse). He said "To think ahead would be just too strange." Chase repeated that sentiment in comments published by The Star-Ledger yesterday, saying he and Marchand had discussed what to do in the event of incapacitation or death, but had mutually decided to just keep going and not think about it.

Uncharitable viewers could point out that such an attitude, while philosophically defensible, did not serve the show. We saw very little of Livia this season -- at least compared to the first season, which she ruled like Don Corleone, making her presence felt whether she was actually in a scene or not. In retrospect, it would have been nice to have seen a bit more of Livia's prickly relationship with her blood family and a bit less of the scary-zany supporting characters played by David Proval and Aida Turturro, who were developed at length, then eliminated from the drama by, respectively, gunshots and a bus ticket.

But under the circumstances, Chase and Marchand's response to her cancer seems both appropriate and humane. Marchand knew she wasn't in good health when Chase hired her, and she told Chase. Chase gave her the part anyway, and rather than writing her out of the show when she became too sick to work regularly, he ratcheted back her screen time and permitted her to participate to the extent her body would let her.

Show business is not known for such generosity. Whatever difficulties Marchand's death causes "The Sopranos" creatively, its cast and crew should take pride in the fact that they bent over backwards to help a great actress keep working.

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