The brusque character actor—who was loved by all he worked with—passed away on Monday, June 6, 2006, due to complications from pneumonia at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, California. He was 77.
Dana Elcar—born 1927 in Michigan as Ibsen Dana Elcar, of Danish descent—was an American television and movie character actor.
At 13, he unsuccessfully ran away from home, which he liked to say led to his becoming an actor.
When he and a friend tried to hop a train to Detroit, Elcar couldn't run fast enough and missed it. Stuck in a town far from home, he called his father and asked him to wire money so he could get back home. He had to spend the night in an all-night theater that was showing Citizen Kane.
"That kind of sparked him to be an actor," said his son Dane Elcar. "He watched it four or five times in one night."
|Dana Elcar as Dimitri Moisevitch.|
Elcar's first film after many years' stage work was 1959s Burning Bright, but his break on the big screen came in the 1964 classic Fail-Safe with Henry Fonda. A gruff character actor, Dana Elcar was usually assigned roles calling for blunt imperiousness. Elcar's other film credits include The Sting from 1973, W.C.Fields and Me from 1976, and of course 2010 which premiered in 1984.
Although he appeared in about 40 films, his most memorable role was on the 1980s and 1990s television series MacGyver as Peter Thornton, an administrator working for the Phoenix Foundation. Elcar had appeared in the pilot episode of MacGyver as Andy Colson (a completely different character), but was later cast as Peter Thornton, making his first regular appearance in the 11th episode of the first season.
In 1991, Elcar began to develop glaucoma. This condition was written into the show, beginning with the sixth season episode seventeen "Blind Faith" and continuing through the remainder of that season and the entire seventh season, with Elcar's character developing the disease. The sixth season finale, "Hind-Sight", was a clip show using Pete Thornton's upcoming eye surgery as a framing device. After MacGyver, Elcar made a guest appearance in "Virus", a 1993 episode of Law & Order, in which he played a man who blamed his diabetes-caused blindness on his former physician, and whose son murdered other patients as revenge.
Elcar also played a blind character on episodes of The Magic School Bus and ER. Once blind, Elcar took on the challenge of playing Vladimir in Waiting for Godot complete with white cane. "The fact that you are losing your eyesight," Elcar said, "does not mean you have forgotten how to act."
While Dana Elcar was legally blind, and had to have his script read to him, it did not affect his acting. "You could barely tell he couldn't see," his son Dane Elcar said. "I heard someone in the front row say, 'I thought he was blind.' "
The play at the Santa Paula Theatre Center was to be his theatrical swan song. He retired from the stage in 1992, incidentally the same year MacGyver went off the air.
His final appearance was in 2002 as a guest on the television series ER.
Dana Elcar passed away June 6, 2005. He was 77.