Bruno Kirby’s career was made up of mostly supporting roles. He was almost never the lead, nor did he ever have to carry an entire motion picture on his spry Italian shoulders. Instead, he was the perfect partner, a flashy fireplug who used his passion and his presence to match up flawlessly with his usually more famous co-stars. His death on 14, August 2006 at a mere 57 years of age (after a battle with leukemia) marked the end of a still strong, still vital acting career. Easily moving between crazy comedy and intense drama, Kirby’s credits were varied, and always interesting. It argued for his versatility as a performer, as well as his no nonsense upbringing – a philosophy that emphasized the work, not the size of the dressing room or the number of lines.
Born 28 April, 1949 in New York City, Bruno Giovanni Quidaciolu Jr. was the son of famed character actor Bruce Kirby. His childhood on the outskirts of the greatest city in the world left a lasting impression on both his personality and his voice. Gifted with that hilarious honk that highlighted a certain ethnicity and spirit, Bruno would parlay his heritage into an amazingly diverse creative canon. Starting out while in his early 20’s Bruno made notable appearances in TV shows like MASH, and in movies like Cinderella Liberty. While on the set of the 1972 sitcom The Super, Bruno would become friends with co-star Richard S. Costello. It was an auspicious combination, as the rotund Italian American character actor was just about to become famous as Clemenza, Vito Corleone’s right hand muscle in that year’s masterpiece The Godfather. When Francis Ford Coppola was looking for someone to play the larger than life figure as a young man, thoughts immediately turned to Bruno, and soon, the relative novice found himself working alongside eventual Oscar winner (for his supporting work as the young Vito) Robert DeNiro in the equally epic sequel.
It was a sign of good things to come. Bruno parlayed the part into a series of sensational supporting turns. He was Marty Lewis, the fictitious version of Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner opposite Bill Murray in Where the Buffalo Roam (1980). He was Albert Brooks’ best friend in Modern Romance (1981) and was extremely memorable as the Frank Sinatra loving chauffer mandated to drive the unappreciative Spinal Tap around in that famous 1984 mockumentary. As he got older, he started splitting his time between comedy, and more serious, dramatic fare. He was the by the book antagonist to Robin Williams free-spirited DJ in Good Morning, Vietnam, and costarred as the cynical pal of Billy Crystal in two extremely popular mainstream comedies – 1989’s When Harry Met Sally and 1991’s City Slickers. He even reconnected with his Godfather roots, starring opposite the legendary Marlon Brando in the mobster spoof The Freshman (1990).
Throughout the ‘90s, Bruno continued to excel in parts that combined his Mediterranean heritage with his genial, almost goofy, good nature. From Nicky (opposite another Corleone, Al Pacino) in Donnie Brasco to a pair of performances as leading attorneys in two of the nation’s most famous landmark trials - he was Barry Sheck of OJ fame in 2000’s American Tragedy, and Vince Bugliosi in the 2004 remake of Helter Skelter - he remained ever sharp, always careful to be both true and interpretive of the people he was playing. Most recently, he was part of the exciting ensemble that makes Entourage one of HBO’s most popular satiric series. Unfortunately, he was already aware of his circumstances. When he learned of his illness a few months ago, Bruno swore he would battle until the end. Sadly, the conclusion came far too soon for such a tremendously talented man. While his career may have been made up of moments, it will be the overall oeuvre that forever defines the amazing Bruno Kirby.