Richard Jordan

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Harvard-educated stage and screen actor Richard Jordan was born into a socially prominent family on July 19, 1937 in New York City, the grandson of Learned Hand, the greatest American jurist never to have served on the U.S. Supreme Court. Newbold Morris, his stepfather, was a member of the New York City Council during Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s administration. Young Richard was educated in private Manhattan schools and then at the exclusive Hotchkiss prep school in Lakeville, Connecticut. While at Hotchkiss, he was outstanding as the eponymous lead of the school play “Mr. Roberts”, which won him a place in the Sharon, Connecticut summer stock company. Jordan went to England as an exchange student at the Sherbourne School, a college (private school) that was over 1,000 years old. After graduating from Sherbourne, Jordan entered Harvard College and took his degree in three years.

At Harvard, Jordan was a member of the Dramatic Club, both as an actor and as a director. It was while at Harvard that he decided to become a professional actor and began performing with off-campus stage companies. After graduating from Harvard, Jordan launched what was to be a prolific stage career in New York, making his Broadway debut in December 1961 in the play “Take Her, She’s Mine” under the direction of the venerable George Abbott in Biltmore Theatre. The play, which starred Art Carney, Elizabeth Ashley in a Tony Award-winning turn, and Heywood Hale Broun, was a hit, playing 404 performances.

Jordan next appeared in a one-night flop, in “Bicycle Ride to Nevada”, which opened and closed on September 24, 1963. He was more lucky with his next play, “Generation”, a comedy starring Henry Fonda that played for 300 performances in the 1965-66 season. He last appeared on Broadway in a success d’estime, John Osborne’s “A Patriot for Me”, directed by Peter Glenville and starring Maximilian Schell and Tommy Lee Jones, who was making his Broadway debut. By that time, Jordan had established himself as a leading player Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway, which accounted for the majority of his over 100 New York stage appearances.

Jordan, as actor and director, was a major force in the development of New York’s “Off-Off-Broadway” theater that flourished in the 1960s. He was one of the founders of the Gotham Arts Theater, which put on plays in an old funeral parlor on West 43rd Street. Fittingly, the company’s first play was about necrophilia. Jordan engaged young New York artists to design the sets, the results of which were not always auspicious. Jordan said of this development, “With our weirdo plays against their far-out sets…it was total insanity!” He made a significant breakthrough, career-wise, with his appearance in the anti-war play “The Trial Of The Catonsville Nine” in both New York and California.

Jordan spent eight years with Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival. He made his debut with Papp’s Shakespeare Festival in 1963, playing “Romeo” opposite the “Juliet” of Kathleen Widdoes, the fellow Papp stock company member who would become his wife, in Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park series. The couple married in 1964, and their eight-year marriage produced a daughter, Nina Jordan, born in 1964, who would later co-star with her father in the movie Old Boyfriends (1979).

Although he appeared on television during the 1960s, the tall, handsome and talented Jordan did not make his motion picture debut until 1971, when he appeared in a supporting role in Michael Winner’s horse opera Lawman (1971), which featured a first-rate cast, including Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb and Robert Duvall. However, it was his role as the baby-faced, amoral Treasury agent in The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) that made him a known commodity on-screen, while it was the monumental mini-series Captains and the Kings (1976) that made his reputation. His performance as the Irish immigrant “Joseph Armagh” brought him an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe award, and it also brought him his long-time companion, co-star Blair Brown, whom he lived with for many years and by whom he had a son.

An actor rather than a star, Jordan played many unsympathetic roles, including that of Nazi Albert Speer in the TV movie The Bunker (1981). He continued to appear on the stage, Off-Broadway and in stock companies touring the major cities of the U.S., while appearing in films and on TV. Jordan was the manager of the L.A. Actors Theater in Los Angeles during the 1970s, where he produced, directed and wrote his own plays. For the 1983-84 Off-Broadway season, he won an Obie Award for his performance in Czech playwright Václav Havel’s “A Private View”. He won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for directing Havel’s “Largo Desolato” at the Taper, Too in 1987.

In 1992, Jordan had begun filming The Fugitive (1993) when his fatal illness forced him to leave the production. Thus, Jordan’s final role was that of “General Lewis Armistead” in the film Gettysburg (1993), which was a labor of love for him. He was close friends with Michael Shaara, the author of the novel “The Killer Angels”, which the movie was based upon, and contributed to the screenplay. Jordan’s last appearance as an actor was the death of his on-screen character, “General Armistead”.

Richard Jordan died in Los Angeles, California of a brain tumor on August 30, 1993. He was 56 years old.


  • Birthname: Robert Anson Jordan Jr.
  • Born: July 19, 1937
  • Born Place: New York City, New York, USA
  • Height: 6' 2" (1.88 m)
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