Ben Gazzara, whose long and brilliant career in theater and film was characterized by a magnetic and mischievous Method intensity, has died at age 81, according to the New York Times. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

On stage, Gazzara, the son of blue-collar Italian immigrants, was a Tony-nominated actor who played Brick in the original 1955 Broadway run of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. On screen, he starred in such classics as 1959’s Anatomy of a Murder. But his best work often came thanks to his association with longtime pal John Cassavetes, who treated Gazzara as a sort of muse in such dark, independent films as 1970’s Husbands and 1976’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Gazzara wasn’t just interested in arthouse experimentation — he was a familiar face on TV in such shows as Run For Your Life in the ’60s, and more recently he appeared in beloved pop movies like Road House and The Big Lebowski.