One of Hollywood's elder statesmen, Jason Robards Jr. had a rich, deep voice and authoritative aura that befit the distinguished citizens he often played. The son of stage and screen actor Jason Robards Sr., Robards kept alive his rich heritage throughout the second half of the 20th century.
Born July 26, 1922, in Chicago, Robards was a military man before becoming an actor. He served seven years in the Navy, and was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked in 1941 (he later received the Navy Cross). Following his service, Robards moved to New York to pursue an acting career. He found work in incidental plays, radio soap operas, and live television dramas, driving a cab and teaching school to support himself. After a decade of obscurity, he rose to prominence in 1956 in the Circle in the Square production of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. He appeared on Broadway the following year in Long Day's Journey Into Night, for which he won a New York Drama Critics Award. Following that success, he remained a busy and popular Broadway performer, and, in 1958, got the opportunity to appear with his father in The Disenchanted.
Making his onscreen debut in The Journey (1959), Robards maintained a TV and screen career while continuing to work on the stage. He tended to appear in two or three movies per year during the '60s, including the acclaimed 1962 screen adaptation of Long Day's Journey Into Night and Sergio Leone's much lauded 1968 Western Once Upon a Time in the West. Two years after his role in the war epic Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), the actor was in a near-fatal car crash, but managed to make a complete recovery, returning to Broadway two years later. He ended the '70s by winning Oscars for his supporting roles in All The President's Men (1976) and Julia (1977), and was nominated for the same award for his portrayal of reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes in Melvin and Howard (1980), The slew of awards and nominations during this period also served as a nice complement to the six Tony awards he had been nominated for between 1960 and 1974. In 1978, Robards returned to the material that had helped to cement his reputation by directing himself in a revival of Long Day's Journey Into Night, which opened at Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House.
Robards continued to act on-stage and in film throughout the '80s, in addition to working on a number of documentaries and made-for-TV movies. Among his more notable television portrayals were the title role in the acclaimed 1980 miniseries F.D.R.: The Last Year (1980) and a lead part in You Can't Take It With You (1984). He also participated in the 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams, a highly acclaimed film about the making of Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. Robards' screen roles during that decade were usually limited to the part of the patriarch in such films as Square Dance (1987) and Parenthood (1989), although he was introduced to a younger audience with his lead in the 1989 comedy Dream a Little Dream, which featured Corey Haim and Corey Feldman and little else.
Robards worked steadily throughout the '90s, taking on roles in such acclaimed features as Philadelphia (1993), A Thousand Acres (1997), and Beloved (1998). He also continued to appear in a number of TV miniseries. In 1999, Robards lent his voice to the widely lauded documentary The Irish In America: The Long Journey Home, further demonstrating that, in addition to being one of Hollywood's most respected figures, he was also one of its most versatile. One of Robards' last roles was a suitably complex one, a dying man longing for a reconciliation with his estranged son in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999). The actor died of cancer, himself, the following year.