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Stage and Screen Actor Alexander Zale Passes Away at Age 89

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Zale starred in productions at Lincoln Center, La Mama and more.

Stage and Screen Actor Alexander Zale Passes Away at Age 89

On August 28, Alexander Zale, an actor who had a long and illustrious career on New York, European, and regional stages, as well as roles in several iconic movies and TV shows, died peacefully at home in Los Angeles of complications from Parkinson's disease. He is survived by his wife of 32 years, Jennifer Donohue Zakkai, his brother Victor Zakkay, as well as several nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews with whom he remained very close throughout his life.

Alex Zale was born Jamil Zakkai in Baghdad, Iraq on March 18, 1931 into a Jewish family. Shortly after a pogrom in 1941, during which hundreds of Jews were slaughtered, he and his entire family fled to Bombay (now Mumbai), India. He emigrated to the United States at age 18 and graduated from Hofstra University. He served in the U.S. Navy, before making his way as an actor in New York City.

Jamil, as he was still called, soon found great success on the New York stage. He appeared in The Connection with The Living Theatre, and joined the company on a European tour. He stayed in Italy to work with Vittorio Gassman's company, Teatro Popolare Italiano, traveling with it to the Aldwych Theatre in London.

Back in New York, he triumphed in the title role of Agamemnon at Lincoln Center, following it with another title role in La Mama's production of Faust, about which the New York Times wrote: "Jamil Zakkai, last summer's 'Agamemnon,' in Central Park, retains his grandeur as Faust. In his haunted eyes, we can sense the man's dilemma-the amazement and curiosity with which he greets Mephistopheles's machinations, the guilt that he feels when he is forced to kill his love's brother." Other theater projects in New York included Andrei Serban's Medea at La Mama and The Public Theater's productions of The Golem, The Dybbuk, and Henry V opposite Kevin Kline.

To pursue work in Los Angeles, he changed his name to Alexander Zale. He was featured in several popular TV shows, including Cagney & Lacy, The Incredible Hulk, Matlock, Tracey Takes On, NYPD Blue, and 24. Films include Francis starring Jessica Lange, Invasion U.S.A. opposite Chuck Norris, Mike Nichols' Postcards From The Edge starring Meryl Streep, Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls, and Robin Swicord's Wakefield with Bryan Cranston.

Regional theaters in which he worked include the Baltimore Center Stage, Seattle Rep, South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, CA, and, in Los Angeles, Pacific Resident Theater, as well as the Mark Taper Forum, where he appeared in The Cherry Orchard with Annette Bening, Alfred Molina, and Sarah Paulson.

Since he was passionate about his profession as well as social causes, donations may be made in Alexander's name to the Actor's Fund and the Southern Poverty Law Conference.

Photo Credit: Joe Buissink

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