Iconic actor-comedian Orson Bean, who died Friday at 91 in a traffic accident, was the rare performer who could inspire admiration and respect from fans and colleagues across the political divide. In liberal Hollywood, this was no small feat and served as a testament to his artistic talent and generosity of spirit.
Orson Bean was the father of Susie Breitbart, the wife of the late Andrew Breitbart. The actor took it upon himself to become an intellectual mentor to his son-in-law, as well as a kindred spirit. Bean introduced Andrew Breitbart to conservative ideas and the two shared an irreverent sense of humor.
In a lengthy career that spanned TV, radio, movies, and theater, Bean became an audience favorite for his impeccable comic timing and warm, avuncular presence that could turn naughty in an instant. He was a favorite panelist on the long-running game show To Tell the Truth and appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show more than 200 times.
He had a supporting role in the popular CBS drama series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and a recurring role in ABC’s Desperate Housewives.
During the McCarthy era, Bean was one of many Hollywood figures blacklisted by studios over alleged Communist ties, though he denied ever being a Communist, saying that he attended meetings only because he was dating a member. Later, his political views evolved towards conservatism.
Younger generations came to recognize him from Being John Malkovich, the 1999 metaphysical comedy in which he played the mysterious and sprightly Dr. Lester.
In his later years, Bean contributed articles to Breitbart News and continued acting on stage, including shows at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice.
Breitbart News CEO Larry Solov paid personal tribute to his longtime friend on Saturday. Bean is survived by his wife, actress Alley Mills; four children, including Susie Breitbart; and several grandchildren.
Following reports of Bean’s death in Los Angeles, tributes began to pour in from prominent figures across the political spectrum, including Barbra Streisand, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Larry Edler, and Ann Coulter.
Streisand thanked Bean for helping her land her first TV show.
Orson Bean was so sweet. So kind. He put me on my first TV show. Thank you Orson. RIP.
— Barbra Streisand (@BarbraStreisand) February 8, 2020
Actress Jane Seymour co-starred with Bean in the popular drama series Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman. The actress wrote on Instagram that he was “one of the kindest and funniest people I’ve ever known.”
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I’ve been trying to find the right words. I’m heartbroken about the tragic death of my dear friend Orson Bean. He starred in Dr. Quinn and was one of the kindest and funniest people I’ve ever known. He was so incredibly talented with such a joy for life. I also lost Ozzie Smith the other man in the picture too recently. This is such a shock and reminder of how precious life is and to hold close those we love. Rest in peace my friend. My heart is broken, sending my love and condolences to his beautiful wife Alley and his entire family. ♥️
Actor Robert Davi called him a “wonderful soul” and a “tremendous wit.”
My HEART GOES OUT TO THE FAMILY OF ORSON BEAN – who was TRAGICALLY KILLED in Venice – he was a active 91 years old- a tremendous wit and person! his daughter Susie was married to Great Andrew Breibart – Orson was SUCH A WONDERFUL SOUL – my arms around wife and grandchildren
— Robert Davi (@RobertJohnDavi) February 8, 2020
Joseph Gordon-Levitt remembered working with Bean on a recent short film.
Just heard the great actor, Orson Bean, died tragically. Really sad to hear it, he was such a warm person. I got to know him a bit when we made this short film together. Written by @johnkrasinski. About three generations of family patterns. https://t.co/7qWDerDVOg
— Joseph Gordon-Levitt (@hitRECordJoe) February 8, 2020
Filmmaker Phil Lord (The Lego Movie) recalled that Bean was an “encouraging” and “inspiring” mentor, who also was a great neighbor.
Say a prayer for the legendary, hysterical, beloved Orson Bean tonight. He was my neighbor and my friend. He never stopped delighting audiences, even when it was just me getting the paper. He was as encouraging and inspiring and energetic a mentor as you could hope to meet.
— Phil Lord (@philiplord) February 8, 2020
Desperate Housewives actress Marcia Cross called him a “joy to work with,” and expressed her sorrow to Bean’s wife, actress Alley Mills. (Bean had a recurring role on Desperate Housewives.)
— Marcia Cross (@ReallyMarcia) February 8, 2020
Actor Adam Baldwin described him as a “brilliant performer and loving family man.”
R.I.P. Orson Bean.
A true gentleman, a brilliant performer and loving family man.
— Adam Baldwin (@AdamBaldwin) February 8, 2020
Actress Jane Lynch also expressed her condolences.
— Jane Lynch (@janemarielynch) February 8, 2020
Ann Coulter also paid her respects to Bean.
Very sad. 'Actor-comedian Orson Bean, 91, hit and killed by car in LA'
On the set of "24," with his son-in-law, Andrew: pic.twitter.com/qJL462K9TE
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) February 8, 2020
Radio host Larry Elder described Bean as a “loving father, husband, and great friend.”
R.I.P. Orson Bean, 9I years young, brilliant actor (stage, screen, movies, television) comedian/raconteur, loving father, husband and great friendhttps://t.co/hWVujHkNX3#OrsonBean pic.twitter.com/8NDIh0lXfS
— Larry Elder (@larryelder) February 8, 2020