Five of the actor's best

By Chris Nashawaty
February 10, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

Ben Gazzara, a magnetic actor whose six-decade career on stage and screen was characterized by a mischievous Method intensity, died Feb. 3 in Manhattan at age 81. The son of blue-collar Italian immigrants, he saw his career take off after being cast as Brick in the original 1955 Broadway run of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Still, Gazzara will always be remembered by movie lovers for the raw, truthful films he made with his longtime friend, writer-director John Cassavetes. Here, a look at his most unforgettable performances.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
Even opposite James Stewart, Gazzara sizzled as a man on trial for murdering his wife’s rapist.

Run for Your Life (1965-68)
His character on this NBC series was a lawyer given two years to live. Thanks to the actor’s sly charisma, the show lasted longer than that.

Husbands (1970)
Gazzara, Cassavetes, and Peter Falk made an electric macho trio in this indie about three men on a bender mourning their dead pal.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
Gazzara gave his most powerful (and tragic) performance in this gritty character study about a club owner who owes money to the wrong people.

Road House (1989)
Just to show that he wasn’t only interested in Method seriousness, Gazzara squared off with Patrick Swayze in this guilty pleasure. Playing the villain, he looked like he was having a blast. He wasn’t the only one.