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Men in Black actor Mike Nussbaum dies at 99; would have turned 100 in 6 days

Mike Nussbaum, acclaimed as America's oldest professional actor, passed away at 99, just short of his 100th birthday. With a career spanning over 50 years on Chicago stages and notable film roles, Nussbaum's legacy includes a Drama Desk Award and collaborations with David Mamet

Men in Black actor Mike Nussbaum dies at 99; would have turned 100 in 6 days ATG
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First Published Dec 25, 2023, 1:04 PM IST

Mike Nussbaum, renowned as the oldest professional actor in America, passed away at the age of 99 at his Chicago home on Saturday, just days shy of his 100th birthday. The news was confirmed by his daughter, Karen Nussbaum, who cited old age as the cause of his death.

Described as a good father and a man who instilled values of care, respect, and justice in his children, Mike Nussbaum enjoyed a prolific career on both stage and screen. Acknowledged multiple times by the Actor's Equity Association as the oldest professional actor in the country, Nussbaum expressed his gratitude for the ability to continue working, stating, "I am gifted and lucky to still be able to do the thing that is the most fun for me in life. As long as I can do it, I will."

Born in December 1923 in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood, Nussbaum initially dabbled in acting during summer camps. However, he didn't pursue acting full-time until his 40s, working as an exterminator in the interim. His Equity card was acquired in the 1970s, marking the beginning of a career that spanned more than 50 years on Chicago stages, including notable performances at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

In 2005, Nussbaum portrayed Shylock in a production of "The Merchant of Venice" and took on the role of Gremio in "The Taming of the Shrew." Notably, he received a Drama Desk Award in 1984 for his outstanding performance in David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross," a play that also earned a Pulitzer Prize that same year. Nussbaum collaborated with Mamet on various occasions throughout his career.

Continuing to perform well into his 90s, Nussbaum showcased his talent as Albert Einstein in the 2017 play "Relativity" at Northlight Theatre in suburban Skokie, where he briefly served as artistic director.

B.J. Jones, a longtime friend and colleague who is the current artistic director at Northlight, praised Nussbaum's acting prowess, stating, "His genius was that you couldn’t tell he was acting. His level of truth was unparalleled. You never saw him sweat. He wasn’t trying to draw attention to himself."

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While primarily known for his work on stage, Nussbaum also made notable contributions to film, with roles including a school principal in "Field of Dreams" and the character Gentle Rosenberg in "Men in Black."

A private funeral service is planned, and a public memorial service to celebrate Mike Nussbaum's life and contributions to the world of acting will be held next year.

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