Of Italian/Syrian heritage, Pittsburgh native F. Murray Abraham attended the University of Texas, then studied acting under Uta Hagen in New York. The peripatetic Abraham made his stage debut in a Los Angeles production of Ray Bradbury's The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, and, shortly before reaching the age of 29, made his New York bow in The Fantasticks. An archetypal example of the "working actor," Abraham managed for more than ten years to make a good living at his craft without ever truly achieving fame. Appearing on television in everything from All in the Family to Kojak, he was seen on several commercials, including a now-famous spot for Fruit of the Loom underwear. His big-screen roles include 1975's The Sunshine Boys (a garage mechanic); 1976's All the President's Men (one of the arresting officers at the Watergate Hotel); 1976's The Ritz (a gay bathhouse patron); and 1978's The Big Fix (a fugitive '60s activist). Abraham's "overnight" stardom came about in 1984, when he was cast as the covetous Antonio Salieri in Amadeus, and his brilliant, bravura performance won him an Oscar. Abraham remained busy throughout the 1980s and '90s, appearing in such efforts as The Name of the Rose (1986), in which he playing a 14th century monk deliberately made up to look like a "living gargoyle," and the otherwise awful Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), in an uncredited, albeit pivotal, role of a prosecuting attorney. One of the most versatile actors in the business, Abraham has nonetheless never quite escaped the long shadow cast by his unforgettable portrayal of Salieri. Indeed, in Arnold Schwarzenegger's genre spoof The Last Action Hero, Abraham was pinpointed as the mystery murderer because he looked just like "the guy that killed Mozart." Onece again hamming it up in that same year's National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1, Abraham freaquently alternated big-budget Hollywood fare and more low-key, performance driven dramas and comedies through the remainder of the decade. While apprearances in such films as Mimic (1997) and Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) kept Abraham a familiar face to a new generation of moviegoers, roles in such small screen efforts as Dead Man's Walk (1996) and the following year's The Color of Justice allowed him a venue to display his true skills. In 1995 Abraham portrayed famed gangster Al Capone in not one but two films; Dillinger and Capone and Baby Face Nelson. Heading into the new millennium with roles in Finding Forrester and 13 Ghosts, Abraham appeared alongside an impressive cast in The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
photo credit: Peter Kramer/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
by Hal Erickson biography