Ron Silver, RIP
By: Frontpage Editors
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, March 17, 2009
On film, he had no personality of his own; he merely embodied the essence of the characters he portrayed. But on the political stage, he cut an inimitable figure in his own right as an activist as independent as he was informed -- neither noted characteristics of Hollywood. Ron Silver, 62, passed away Sunday after a two-year battle with esophageal cancer, and his voice, intellect, and cool passion will be missed.
His unique standing in Tinsel Town could be best summed up, not by the fact that he was a Republican, but by the fact that he earned a Master's degree in Chinese history from St. John's University and spoke Spanish and Chinese. His life as an actor, he said, came about because he "fooled around with it in college" and, as he modestly put it, "received encouragement" -- from Lee Strasberg, the foremost spokesman for Method Acting.
The encouragement continued, as he earned two Emmy nominations (for the TV movie Billionaire Boys Club and later for his work as a leftist pol on The West Wing), and a Tony Award in 1988 for his role in David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow. His skills shone as he morphed into such diverse figures as Alan Dershowitz (Reversal of Fortune), tennis star Bobby Riggs (When Billie Beat Bobby), fight trainer Angelo Dundee (Ali), and Henry Kissinger (Kissinger and Nixon).
His often intense performances were fueled by insatiable study, part wonkishness and part inborn compulsion to master his subject material, which bled into his other calling: political activism. The New York-born Silver began as a Democratic Party stalwart, one so loyal he campaigned for Michael Dukakis in 1988. From the ashes of that crash-and-burn, he co-founded the Creative Coalition with Susan Sarandon and other Hollywood leftists, but this politics remained more nuanced than Sarandon and her ilk. Unlike them, he supported the War on Terror and changed political registration after September 11, 2001.
Silver readily described himself as a "9/11 Republican," a Democrat reoriented around the notion that national security trumps all other concerns. For his outspoken support of the War on Terror, he addressed the 2004 Republican National Convention, a move that put him at odds with most of his peers. Ironically, as he addressed the RNC, the group he co-founded, the Creative Coalition, threw a gala fundraiser for John and Teresa Heinz. (Alyssa Milano quipped that Teresa "represents everything that my generation believes in.") As they venerated Michael Moore, Silver described the filmmaker as "a charlatan in a clown suit." He would go on to narrate the rebuttal film Fahrenhype 9/11. Silver would later write that he and his former comrades had two different visions of the wartime enemy:
Indeed we now all have reason to be afraid. But apparently we’re afraid of different things. Some factions are less concerned with the folks who have declared war on us and who are determined to kill us, our children and our civilization. These factions have chosen our elected government, chosen by us to secure and defend us, to be their adversary...I believe they’re afraid to take on our real adversaries.
In fact we are not afraid enough. Perhaps after losing Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago or Atlanta a great many of our citizens will realize that George Bush was not the person to be afraid of. Although I have every confidence they will find a way to blame him.
His heterodoxy impacted his career “very badly" in his assessment, because the Hollywood "community is not very pluralistic. I haven’t worked for 10 months.” When he rebounded with an Emmy-nominated turn on The West Wing, he recalled: “some of my colleagues would greet me with a chanting of ’Ron, Ron, the neo-con.’ It was all done in fun but it had an edge.”
Incapable of slowing down, he merged his love of film with his activism. In 2005, he became producer, director, and narrator of a documentary on the United Nation: Broken Promises: The UN at 60. The film was screened at the Liberty Film Festival during the 2006 Restoration Weekend in Phoenix, sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. In 2006, President Bush named Silver to the United States Institute of Peace.
The same year, described the translation work of MEMRI in The Arab and Iranian Reaction to 9/11: Five Years Later. He would soon come to sit on the advisory committee to the I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Legal Defense Trust -- with good reason: Libby was convicted on a procedural inquest of a non-crime by jurors unconvinced of his guilt.
For his paramount concern for American security and his lifelong record of civil rights activism, Ron Silver was honored at the 2007 Restoration Weekend.
His friends say his advancing cancer never robbed him of his jovial spirit or his laser-like focus on others. But it eventually left him too exhausted for the love of his life: acting. After turning down a Shakespearean lead onstage, he continued his activism with a less physically demanding radio program on Sirius Radio. In that capacity, he visited both national political conventions and the inauguration of Barack Obama. He also lent his voice to the forthcoming special, For Love of Liberty: The Story of America's Black Patriots, a documentary about black enlisted men and women, produced by Louis Gossett Jr., hosted by Halle Berry, and including readings from numerous stars like Silver, Robert Duvall, Morgan Freeman, Mel Gibson, and John Travolta. It is scheduled to air on PBS later this year.
Media obituaries have gotten his story wrong by describing 9/11 as his Damascus Road conversion from the far-Left to rock-ribbed conservatism. One typical report claims Silver "made a breathtaking political transformation, going from far left to radical right after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." Silver had never been a lockstep conformist, speaking on behalf of Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in the 1980s, and supporting Rudy Giuliani's mayoralty long before 9/11. Following 9/11, he was anything but "radical right," describing his politics as "right of left-of-center." He told the 2004 Republican National Convention, held in his beloved home city, "I am a well-recognized liberal on many issues confronting our society today." (Emphasis added.) And an honest liberal he remained unto his death, pursuing an interest in health care reform and a left-of-center view of social issues. He maintained his membership in the liberal internationalist Council on Foreign Relations, but co-founded "One Jerusalem" in reaction to the existential threat the Intifada held for the survival of the Jewish state. Specifically, the group upholds Israel's "right to retain sovereignty over all of Jerusalem" without trading real land for elusive peace. Silver endorsed Giuliani for the 2008 Republican nomination, but the New York Times notes with glee that, according to his brother Mitchell, he voted for Barack Obama. An emaciated Silver told an interviewer John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate "was a deal-breaker for me." He was willing to forgive Obama for having less experience, in any capacity, than Palin, because he felt Obama was ready to lead; however, he noted that on the security question, "Obama gives me a great cause of concern."
His return to the Democratic fold won him no quarter from the rabid Left, which has engaged in its familiar grave-dancing ritual. One leftist on YouTube bid him, "Nice trip to hell war monger." A commenter on DailyKos stated, "His death doesn't absolve him of his wingnuttery." Another added, "he had a substantial role in 'Fahrenhype 9/11,' so his death gets no sympathy from me whatsoever."
For those who love the craft of filmmaking, the vibrancy of drama, or the devout pursuit of truth, Ron Silver will be missed. RIP.
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