Lew Palter, the veteran character actor known for appearing in Titanic, has died. He was 94.
Palter’s daughter, Catherine, confirmed the news to The Hollywood Reporter on Monday, June 26, revealing that her father died on May 21 at home in Los Angeles following a battle with lung cancer.
In addition to starring in 1997’s Titanic, Palter was known for playing a Supreme Court justice in the 1981 film First Monday in October, which also starred Walter Matthau and Jill Clayburgh. His many television appearances include roles in Columbo, The Virginian, Mission: Impossible, Kojak, The Brady Bunch, Charlie’s Angels, Baretta, Hill Street Blues and The Flying Nun.
Palter began teaching acting at the California Institute of the Arts in 1971 and worked there until his retirement in 2013. “Lew loved the craft of acting and taught his students to do the same,” Travis Preston, the dean of CalArts School of Theater, told THR in a statement. “He fostered deep curiosity, care, intellect and humor in every scene, play and class. He had the utmost respect of his students and encouraged all to find truth in their work and lives.”
Over the years, Palter’s numerous students included Ed Harris, Don Cheadle and Cecily Strong. Shortly after his passing in May, Strong, 39, credited her former teacher with encouraging her to try improv, which eventually led to her auditioning for Saturday Night Live.
“Thanks Lew. And thanks because for so many years I got to brag that my teacher was the old guy in Titanic that chose to stay in bed,” Strong wrote via Instagram. “Lew knew how to live life well. How to teach students to be not only better actors but better people. He got to a beautiful 94. The proof is in the pudding.”
In Titanic, Palter played a fictionalized version of Isidor Straus, a department store magnate who died on the ship in 1912 with his wife, Ida Straus. When it became clear the ship was sinking, Ida refused to get in a lifeboat without her husband, and the pair were last seen on the deck arm in arm. Isidor’s body was later recovered from the wreckage and taken to New York City, where he was buried in his family’s mausoleum in the Bronx. Ida’s body was never found.
Earlier this month, Ida and Isidor were back in the news because of their connection to Wendy Rush, the wife of OceanGate cofounder and CEO Stockton Rush. Wendy, who is the company’s communications director, is a great-great-granddaughter of Isidor and Ida.
Stockton was one of five people to die earlier this month on the submersible Titan during an OceanGate expedition to the Titanic wreckage. The ship went missing on June 18 about an hour and 45 minutes into its descent. The U.S. Coast Guard announced on Thursday, June 22, that searchers had discovered debris “consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vessel.”
That same day, OceanGate released a statement confirming the deaths of the five men on board the Titan. “We now believe that our CEO Stockton Rush, Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood, Hamish Harding and Paul-Henri Nargeolet have sadly been lost,” read the statement. “These men were true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans. Our hearts are with these five souls and every member of their families during this tragic time. We grieve the loss of life and joy they brought to everyone they knew.”