Adieu, King of Anguish

updated 02/10/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/10/1992 01:00AM

JOSE FERRER DIDN'T LOOK LIKE ANYONE else or sound like anyone else. "He's ugly in a distinguished sort of way," a colleague once observed, "or perhaps he's distinguished in an ugly sort of way." Whichever it was, Ferrer could register sardonic skepticism and self-torment better than any other actor of his generation. These qualities helped make him a rare bird indeed: a character actor who became a bona fide movie star.

In 1947 he won the first of his five Tony awards, and in 1950 an Oscar, for his performance in the screen version of Cyrano de Bergerac, in which he played the lovelorn poet with the improbable nose. He earned garlands as well for his searing portrayal of the crippled artist Toulouse-Lautrec in 1952's Moulin Rouge. But he is probably best remembered by American filmgoers as Lt. Barney Greenwald, the hard, sharp Navy lawyer who submerges Captain Queeg (Humphrey Bogart) on the witness stand in The Caine Mutiny.

Puerto Rican—born and Princeton-educated, Ferrer shrewdly used his star status to carve a broad career for himself as an actor, director and producer, onstage and onscreen. And when he died last week at 80 of cancer in Coral Gables, Fla., he left behind a rich legacy of achievement—and a large group of offspring to honor it. Ferrer was married four times, most notably to singer Rosemary Clooney (1953—67), with whom he had five children. (He had a daughter, Leticia, from his first marriage to Uta Hagen; his son Gabriel is married to singer Debbie Boone.) "He was totally committed to his work," Clooney says, "but if anything was more important, it was the children." In 1981 he finally got the chance to appear onscreen with one of them, his son Miguel, in an episode of Magnum, P.I.

Ferrer was slated to appear with Judd Hirsch on Broadway this season, but his illness finally overlook him. He once summed up his devotion to his craft thus: "You know you're in the right racket if you love the drudgery that goes with it."

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