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Remembering Mike Nussbaum: Iconic Actor in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ and David Mamet Collaborations Passes Away at 99

Mike Nussbaum
Mike Nussbaum (Credits: CBR)

Mike Nussbaum, the accomplished Chicago actor known for his portrayal of the aging salesman George Aaronow in the original Broadway production of Glengarry Glen Ross, passed away at the age of 99. Nussbaum, who had a prolific career spanning over five decades on Windy City stages, breathed his last at his Chicago residence just six days before his anticipated 100th birthday, as confirmed by his daughter Karen to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Acknowledged for his outstanding contributions to the Chicago theater scene, Nussbaum received a prestigious lifetime achievement award from the League of Chicago Theaters in 2019. Beyond the stage, he showcased his acting prowess on the silver screen, playing notable roles such as book publisher Bob Drimmer in Fatal Attraction (1987), a school principal in Field of Dreams (1989), and the alien jewelry store owner Gentle Rosenburg in Men in Black (1997).

Mike Nussbaum

Mike Nussbaum (Credits: NPR)

Nussbaum’s collaboration with renowned playwright David Mamet began in the late 1960s. Mamet cast him as Teach in the 1975 premiere of American Buffalo at the Goodman Theatre, marking the start of a longstanding creative partnership. Notable roles followed, including Albert Einstein in Mamet’s Relativity. His performance as George Aaronow in Glengarry Glen Ross earned him a Drama Desk award in 1984, and he also excelled as salesman Shelley Levene in another acclaimed run at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre.

David Mamet, speaking about working with Nussbaum, once remarked, “It’s wonderful to work with Mike because, like any artist, like any actor, he’s just unusual. You’re constantly saying, ‘My God, where did that come from?’ It’s not coming out of a bag of ‘acting moments.’ That’s all bullshit. It’s coming out of — who the hell knows where? You either got it, or you don’t, and Mike certainly does.”

Born Myron Nussbaum on Dec. 29, 1923, in Chicago, he served in the U.S. Army under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower before embarking on a full-time acting career in his 40s. Despite a late start, he made his way to Broadway and also appeared in films like House of Games (1987) and Things Change (1988), both penned by Mamet.

Nussbaum’s diverse onscreen portfolio included Harry and Tonto (1974), Losing Isaiah (1995), and Steal Big Steal Little (1995), as well as TV roles in series like The Equalizer, 227, L.A. Law, Brooklyn Bridge, Frasier, The Commish, The X-Files, and Early Edition.

In a 2019 interview with the Sun-Times, Nussbaum reflected on his fulfilling life as an actor in Chicago, expressing his preference for the city’s artistic atmosphere over the overwhelming desires for fame and glory found in New York and Los Angeles. Survived by his second wife, Julie, whom he married in 2004, and his children, Jack and Karen, along with seven grandchildren, Mike Nussbaum leaves behind a legacy of remarkable performances and a profound impact on the world of theater and film.

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