Leon Vitali, the “Barry Lyndon” actor who became one of Stanley Kubrick’s closest associates, has died. He was 74 years old.
Vitali died Friday in Los Angeles, his family told The Associated Press on Sunday. He died peacefully surrounded by his loved ones including his three children, Masha, Max and Vera.
“Leon was a special and charming man, driven by his curiosity, who spread love and warmth wherever he went,” his children said in a statement provided by Masha Vitali. “He will be remembered with love and will be sadly missed by the many people he touched.”
Although Vitali has often been portrayed as Kubrick’s assistant, Tony Zierra’s 2017 documentary “Filmworker” shed light on Vitali’s enormous and largely unrecognized contributions to the work of one of cinema’s greatest figures, “The Shining” to “Eyes Wide Shut”. He has done everything from casting and coaching actors to supervising restorations. Vitali even once installed a video monitor so Kubrick could keep an eye on his dying cat.
Matthew Modine, who starred in Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” tweeted his condolences on Sunday.
“There are people we meet who have a profound impact on our lives. Leon Vitali was one of those people in mine,” Modine wrote. “An artist in all aspects of his life. A loving father and friend to so many. A kind, generous and indulgent nature. He exemplified and personified grace.
Filmmaker Lee Unkrich also tweeted that he was: “Completely sorry to hear of the passing of Leon Vitali. He helped me (asterisk) tremendously (asterisk) with my book The Shining and I’m disgusted he doesn’t see him No. He was a gentle, kind, humble and generous man and an essential part of Stanley Kubrick’s team.
Prior to meeting Kubrick, Vitali was a rising actor in England, appearing on several UK TV shows including “Softly, Softly”, “Follyfoot”, “Z Cars” and “Notorious Woman”. Then, in 1974, he got his biggest break yet, when he was cast in “Barry Lyndon” as Lord Bullingdon, the son-in-law of Ryan O’Neal’s title character.
Vitali was so fascinated by Kubrick and his processes that he made an unusual decision: he gave up acting and devoted himself entirely to the famously demanding director for more than two decades. His next Kubrick credit was as ‘personal assistant to the director’ on ‘The Shining’, though that’s only part of the story – Vitali helped cast 4-year-old Danny Lloyd to play Danny Torrance and Louise and Lisa Burns as the creepy Grady Twins (citing Diane Arbus as inspiration).
“I made a really, really drastic change in my life and that’s when I said, ‘I’m more interested in this’ than I was in the game,” said Vitali to The Associated Press in 2017. “It’s the biggest conscious decision I’ve ever made. There have been sacrifices, but there have also been gains.
After Kubrick’s death in 1999, Vitali oversaw the restorations of many Kubrick films. He received an award from the Cinema Audio Society for his work. Vitali then worked with director Todd Field on his films “Little Children” and “In the Bedroom”.
Prior to directing the documentary, Zierra said he and many Kubrick-obsessed fans knew Vitali from his performances in “Barry Lyndon” and “Eyes Wide Shut,” in which he played Red Cloak, and as a key circle member. restricted by Kubrick. But when they finally met Vitali to direct the film, they were struck by “his kindness, his humility and the fascinating scope of his story”.
Zierra is working on a director’s cut of “Filmworker” that will include new footage he and Vitali wanted in the film, but couldn’t be made in time for its Cannes debut in 2017.