Recalling a 'Silver Lining' In Hollywood

When I last saw Ron Silver at the White House Correspondents Association dinner in Washington two years ago, I reminded the actor and political activist that I was a friend of Jeanine Jackson, who had co-starred with Silver and Kate Nelligan in the 1997 made-for-TV film, Love Is Strange.

“You are, are you?”  he replied, reaching out and giving me a big hug outside the dining room at the Washington Hilton.  Silver then rattled off a quick an anecdote about the heart-wrenching film in which he worked with Jeanine, and then posed for a photograph with my wife.

Ron Silver was a gentleman, and that’s how I thought of him upon hearing the sad news this week that the TV and film actor had died at 62 after a long battle with esophageal cancer.  In the next few days, newscasts and newspapers stories will carry tributes to the New York-born Silver, most likely recalling his work on stage that brought him a Tony in 1988 and his more recent role as the Rahm Emmanuel-ish liberal strategist in TV’s long-running "West Wing."

And, of course, there will be much reported about his real-life role as a Hollywood liberal who defied his professional and social companions to endorse George Bush for re-election in 2004.  Lifelong Democrat Silver’s maverick stance was motivated by his outrage at the attack on 9/11 and his resulting support for the war on terror.  In his words, “I’m a 9/11 Republican” — although, as he emphasized to me at a film premiere in ’05, he had actually changed his voter registration to independent and still held liberal views on cultural and economic issues.

“Ron was a true patriot,” recalled his friend Dave Bossie, longtime conservative activist and head of Citizens United. “I met him in the aftermath of 9/11 and he had become a convert to backing national security solely because of the attack.”  

Yes, Silver suffered for taking the position he did in ’04 and not only addressing the Republican convention but speaking on and debating for the war on terror.  As Bossie told me, “I would go to dinner parties he would host in Hollywood and New York, and he would get into incredible arguments about politics and President Bush and national security.  But he didn’t care — he knew what he believed in and defended it.”

Things You May Not Have Known About Him

His role on "West Wing" and in recent films notwithstanding, friends confirmed that Silver also lost roles because of his pro-national security stance.  Unlike Charleton Heston, who had made what he liked to call “drop dead money” and thus could say and do what he wanted politically, Silver was comfortable but didn’t have the financial security of a Heston.

However, the same friends noted, because Silver was such a versatile actor, it was impossible for anyone in Hollywood to keep him from working altogether.  In Love Is Strange, he won hearts as the former husband of a lawyer who has developed cancer and returns to her side.  He also won boos as a scheming and amoral U.S. Senator in Jean Claude Van Damm’s sci-fi thriller Time Cop.  With his passion for acting, Ron Silver could never be typecast.

And while it may not be reported at length, Silver’s passion for politics extended far beyond his 9/11 stand.  He had studied Chinese dialects at Johns Hopkins University and had an interest in and understanding of the Asian culture.  Although he had voted for John McCain in November, he came to Washington in January (when he was in the penultimate stages of his battle with cancer) because he was moved by the historic significance of Barack Obama’s inauguration.  

When friend Bossie signed Silver on as narrator for his provocative film about the United Nations titled Broken Promises: The U.N. at 60, one would think the actor’s velvet voice would have been enough to complete the assignment.

Not so.  Broken Promises (which features, among others, HUMAN EVENTS editor Jed Babbin) includes on-camera interviews conducted by Silver and a personal appearance by the actor, in which he discusses growing up in New York and initially believing in the U.N.  Coupled with newsreel clips of first U.N. Secretary General Tyrgve Lie and the hopes the international body first provided the world, Promises then weaves into contemporary and disappointing footage such as Yassir Arafat addressing the General Assembly with a pistol very evident on his belt.  The transformation of the U.N. from a spearhead of hope to a forum for anti-Americanism and hatred of Israel is portrayed vividly on screen, just as it was viewed by Silver as he grew older.  

As I learned in talking to him at a party after the premiere, Silver knew quite a bit about the U.N. and was much more than a narrator for Broken Promises.  But that was just one example of the passion with which he approached everything that was important to him, most of all the divorced father’s two grown children.  Silver traveled often with them and they came first, as far as he was concerned.

“In a nutshell, Ron was a man of passion,” said Dave Bossie, “For his children, for acting and for politics.”

Not a bad way to be remembered.