November 1, 1933- Ben Piazza
Showbiz and all the arts were decimated during the early years of the HIV/ AIDS plague. I could make a list of those lost in the television industry, behind the scenes and in front of the camera; for example, just take the popular nighttime soap Dallas, which aired on CBS from 1978 to 1991.
The series revolves around a wealthy and feuding Texas family, the Ewings, who own the independent oil company Ewing Oil and the cattle-ranching land of Southfork. Oil tycoon J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) became the show’s breakout character. His dirty business became the show’s trademark. When the show ended in 1991, J.R. was the only character to have appeared in every episode.
The show was famous for its cliffhangers, including the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger. The 1980 episode Who Done It remains the second highest rated primetime telecast ever. The show also featured a “Dream Season,” in which the entirety of season nine was revealed to have been a dream of the character Pam Ewing.
The series won four Emmy Awards. With 14 seasons and 357 episodes, Dallas remains one of the longest lasting primetime dramas in television history, behind Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order, and Gunsmoke (635 episodes).
Four actors were lost to HIV/AIDS and who all appeared on Dallas.
Tom Fuccello was born in Newark in 1936. He is best known from playing the role of Senator Dave Culver on Dallas from 1979 through 1991. His final role was on the soap The Young And The Restless in 1992. Fuccello was gay. He died of the plague in 1993 at 56 years old.
Timothy Patrick Murphy was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1959. He began his acting career in commercials and his first gig was in the series The Paper Chase in 1978. That same year he was on the miniseries Centennial. He did all sort of guests spots on series telelvision including a year on the soap opera, Search For Tomorrow. He said that he got the virus from actor Brad Davis, who suffered from AIDS (and killed himself in 1991), with whom he had an affair. Murphy was taken in 1988 at 29 years old.
Dack Rambo was born (with his identical twin, Dirk) in 1941. He and and his twin moved to Los Angles in the early 1960s and were discovered by Loretta Young who cast them in her series The New Loretta Young Show (1962-63). Dirk was killed in a car crash in Hollywood in 1967. Dack appeared on dozens of television shows and starred in the series The Guns Of Will Sonnett (1967-69), Dirty Sally (1974), Sword Of Justice (1978-79), and Paper Dolls (1984). He played Jack Ewing on Dallas, from 1985 through 1987. In 1991, while starring as Grant Harrison on the soap opera Another World, he learned he was infected with HIV. He quit the show and retired from acting. He publicly announced that he was HIV positive, and revealed he was bisexual with many relationships with both men and women since he was in his early 20s. The plague got Rambo in 1994. He was 52 years old.
The film The Hanging Tree (1959) is a small, taut Western about a doctor who saves a local criminal from a mob that is trying to hang him. The doctor, played by the most beautiful man in film, Gary Cooper, tries to control the life of the young man, promising to keep his criminal past secret in exchange for his labor. That young man was played by Ben Piazza in his Hollywood debut, and although Piazza was being groomed for movie stardom, he never attained true leading man status. He ended up with a steady, if unsensational, career of supporting roles and television guest shots. Although Piazza was married to fellow actor Dolores Dorn (whose first husband was Franchot Tone). Piazza and Dorn were married from 1967 to 1979 and they had no children.
When he began his career, Piazza was compared to the young Marlon Brando. Born Benito Daniel Piazza in Little Rock, he began acting in 1952 while studying at Princeton University. He was accepted as a member of the famed Actors Studio in New York City and made his professional debut Off-Broadway in 1956, before making his Broadway debut in 1958 in Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.
Piazza had some success on Broadway, where he replaced gay actor George Grizzard in the role of Nick in the original production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962) by gay playwright Edward Albee. A favorite of Albee, he starred in his plays The Death Of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story.
On television, he had recurring roles on Dallas and its spinoff Dynasty. He played a supportive doctor in the coming-out made-for-television movie Consenting Adult.
His film credits include The Bad News Bears (1976) and The Blues Brothers (1980), as the wealthy restaurant patron from whom John Belushi offers to purchase his wife and daughter. Piazza also played the violent boyfriend who scars Liza Minnelli‘s face in Otto Preminger‘s underrated Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970). Piazza’s other film credits are (1976), I Never Promised You A Rose Garden (1977), Peter Bogdanovich‘s Mask (1985), Clean And Sober (1988), and Guilty By Suspicion (1991), where he plays Hollywood director/mogul Darryl F. Zanuck.
Piazza wrote plays and a novel, The Exact And Very Strange Truth (1964), about an Italian-American boy in Little Rock. He wrote in the introduction that any resemblance between the characters and real people was “irrelevant”, although the parallels to his own life are there. Piazza dedicated the book to Albee.
Piazza died from the plague at 57 years old. he is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood. He left behind a partner of 18 years, Wayne Tripp.