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The One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Directed by the late Czech filmmaker Milos Forman, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is one of only three films to win the big five at the Oscars: best picture, best director, best actor, best actress, and best screenplay. Its impact went beyond the Academy Awards, though: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is a defining film of the New Hollywood period, which began in the late 1960s and ended around 1980.

Much of its power comes from its excellent casting. Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel wrote, "Czech director Milos Forman has cast his film beautifully. The patients' faces will live in your mind a long time." The Observer also wrote how Jack Nicholson's performance — a famously loud and brilliant turn — was not allowed to distract from the supporting cast's ensemble work, which was at once funny, moving, and tragic.

Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, the leading actors who played R.P. McMurphy and the infamous Nurse Ratched, have lived on into their eighties. However, many cast members have sadly died since "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was originally released. Here are the "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" actors you may not know passed away.

Josip Elic

Josip Elic played Bancini, a large but harmless patient who shuffles along confusedly. In one of many classic scenes, McMurphy uses Bancini's shoulders as a seat from which to play basketball on the hospital's court. Also, like several of the other tormented patients, Bancini finds a key moment to express himself: "I'm tired and it's a lot of baloney!

Like the famous "We're going to need a bigger boat" line in "Jaws," which was also released in 1975, the memorable basketball scene was created on the spot. Elic told the North Jersey Record, "I'm sitting down there on the bench watching them play basketball, and all of a sudden somebody is on my shoulders with their legs over my shoulders and over my head... It was Jack Nicholson. I got up and said, 'I'll play the game with him,' and I started playing basketball. He had thighs like you wouldn't believe. Holy crap."

Born in Butte, Montana on March 10, 1921, Elic's long career included roles in "Murder, Inc.," "The World's Greatest Lover," and "Black Rain." He also appeared in TV shows such as "Peter Gunn" and "The Untouchables." After living in an assisted-living residence, Elic died in October 2019, aged 98.

William Redfield

William Redfield plays Harding, an earnest neurotic whose irritability sends him into toothless fits of rage. New York Times critic Vincent Canby described Redfield's performance as "close to brilliant," while The Hollywood Reporter labeled his turn as a "standout."

One of Harding's most memorable moments occurs in a group therapy session as he pontificates about existence, saying, "I'm not just talking about my wife, I'm talking about my life... I'm talking about everybody! I'm talking about form, I'm talking about content, I'm talking about interrelationships!" 

Tragically, as he delivered those lines, Redfield was suffering from terminal leukemia. Dean Brooks, a real physician who played a version of himself as Dr. Spivey, diagnosed Redfield on set, according to The Guardian. Redfield kept his condition private from the rest of the cast and died 18 months later in August 1976, aged just 49.

A founding member of the Actor's Studio with Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan, Redfield was remembered as an accomplished actor dedicated to his craft. However, despite his popularity with critics, Redfield was skeptical of their insight: "The trouble with 90 percent of critics is that they know nothing about the theater ... The not-so-surprising truth is that the only people who know anything about the theater are the people who put on plays."

Louisa Moritz

Louisa Moritz plays Rose, one of R.P. McMurphy's love interests who he smuggles into the hospital ward. According to Deadline, Moritz had a string of films during the 1970s in which she played the proverbial blonde bombshell. She would perfect this role in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," bringing good-time energy while having real affection for the ward's troubled patients.

Other entries in her filmography include "Death Race 2000," "Up in Smoke," and "Chained Heat." She also appeared in TV shows such as "The Rockford Files," "The Incredible Hulk," and "Ironside." Moritz was noted for her social life, with her longtime friend and publisher Edward Lozzi saying of her, "Louisa Moritz was so full of life... Her parties in Mt. Olympus in the 1980s were wild and most popular with actors, producers, models, make-up artists, set directors, stuntmen...all of the categories."

Later in life, Moritz made headlines as one of the first women to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual assault. Washington D.C. Joseph Cammarata said, "Louisa Moritz was a brave woman who stood up against a powerful Hollywood icon, Bill Cosby, in an effort to restore her good name and reputation, after he publicly branded her a liar when she made public her allegations of sexual abuse and assault by Mr. Cosby." In January 2019, four years after Moritz accused Bill Cosby, the actress died in her Los Angeles home of natural causes. She was 72.

Will Sampson

In the original 1962 novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," author Ken Kesey described Chief Bromden as a towering Native American man. So when producer Michael Douglas was told about Will Sampson, an accomplished Muscogee rodeo performer, he hired him without an audition (via Ocala Star-Banner). Sampson had no formal acting experience, but he proved to be the perfect choice to bring Bromden to life on the silver screen.

In an interview with Tim Giago on The First Americans, Sampson said, "There are no Indian heroes for the children today ... all their heroes are dead ... Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and all the great chiefs, they're all gone ... so in that effect that's what I try to be or want to be for the Indian children, or Indian people." In the years after his defining role, which the Los Angeles Times described as "haunting," Sampson went on to star in films such as "The Outlaw Josey Wales," "The White Buffalo," "Orca," and "Poltergeist II: The Other Side."

By 1987, Sampson was suffering from scleroderma, a chronic disease that affects the skin, heart, and lungs, leading his body weight to drop dramatically. On June 3, 1987, about six weeks after transplant surgery, Sampson died owing to a "combination of problems" including malnutrition, kidney failure, and a postoperative infection. He was 53.

Sydney Lassick

Sydney Lassick plays Cheswick, a bespectacled patient prone to meltdowns and vulnerable to noise and altercations. A graduate of the drama program at DePaul University in Chicago, Lassick was a WWII navy veteran before he embarked on a lengthy Hollywood career, according to Variety.

Lassick was also something of a prankster, especially when it served the artistic merit of his projects. During the filming of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," actors were assigned cells in the ward which also served as their dressing rooms, creating an authoritarian, institutional atmosphere that stirred some healthy resistance in the actors. Lassick was the first to "rebel." He refused to do the customary exercises and, when the other performers realized this, they joined him. As the men defied the script, a confused and frustrated Milos Forman shouted, "What the hell is going on? Do your exercises!" (via The Guardian)

In the 28 years following "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Lassick appeared in films such as "Carrie," "Deep Cover," and "Man on the Moon." He completed his last film, "House of Pain," just four months before his death on April 12, 2003 from diabetes and related conditions. He was 80.

Scatman Crothers

Better known for his roles in "The Shining" and the TV show ”Chico and the Man,” Scatman Crothers is also featured in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" as Orderly Turkle, a night watchman who reluctantly helps McMurphy throw a party at the ward.

Born Benjamin Sherman Crothers on May 23, 1910, the singer-actor adopted the name "Scatman" because of his talent for scat singing, a jazz vocal style made popular by performers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway. Crothers developed his musical talent from the age of 14, performing at local speakeasies in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Crothers traveled the midwest during the 1930s before getting a break on the Los Angeles TV show "Dixie Showboat” in 1948. A few years later, in 1953, Crothers appeared in the Universal film ”Meet Me at the Fair,” which officially started his acting career. On November 23, 1986, Crothers succumbed to cancer of the lung and esophagus. He was 76. Speaking with the Associated Press, James Komack, a friend of Crothers for some 15 years, said, "He always had a smile on his face. He was a very up person and a very religious man.″ He added that Crothers would often stop by his home to "serenade my kids on a Sunday afternoon." 

Dean Brooks

Dr. Dean Brooks is the physician who privately diagnosed William Renfield with terminal leukemia (via The Guardian). A non-professional actor, Brooks was pivotal to the production of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," for it was he who allowed the cast and crew to use Oregon State Hospital for 14 weeks of filming, according to the Los Angeles Times. Patients at Oregon State supported Dr. Brooks' decision, with some 90 of them working on the production.

Brooks' daughter Dennie said, "[He] thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for people to begin to discuss what was going on in mental health ... And he thought it would be fun." Dr. Brooks would support mental health initiatives for the rest of his life, including a pressure group that advocated for mentally ill inmates in jails and prisons.

It must have been strange for Brooks to audition for Milos Forman opposite Jack Nicholson, who was one of the biggest actors in Hollywood. The actors and filmmakers were in his domain, though, and he was committed to making "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" an accurate film. Frustrated by the dialogue, Brooks slammed the script on his desk and said, "'Milos, you've got to make it real." Nicholson agreed, so the pair began to improvise, captivating Louise Fletcher. She later remarked, "This turned out to be one of the most brilliant improvised scenes I've ever witnessed ... Dean Brooks turned out to be such a good actor."

After a period of ill health, Brooks died in a retirement home on May 30, 2013. He was 96.

Vincent Schiavelli

Described by the New York Times as having a "gloomy, droopy-eyed look," Vincent Schiavelli appeared in around 150 films, often playing creepy, oddball characters. In "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," the New York native played Frederickson, a fellow inpatient at the psychiatric institution.

Schiavelli's unique appearance was a symptom of Marfan syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissue that has implications for much of the body, namely the heart. Diagnosed in childhood, Schiavelli underwent heart surgery in 1990. "I've been fixed," he told the Chicago Tribune, "I feel much changed as a result of having this surgery. I`m tremendously more energetic." The surgery allowed Schiavelli to live with much greater freedom. "I had this whole ritual in order to preserve my energy ... naps, coffee, food at specific times — if I didn't have it, I'd get so hungry I'd pass out." 

Numerous high profile movies followed "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," including, "Ghost," "Batman Returns," and two other Milos Forman projects, "Amadeus" and "The People vs. Larry Flynt." But Schiavelli was not limited to the screen: He was also a prolific food writer, publishing three books and contributing articles to newspapers and magazines.

After suffering from lung cancer, Schiavelli died at home in Polizzi Generosa, Sicily. He was 57.

William Duell

Another quirky actor, William Duell was said to have a "puckishness and understated comic flair [that] enlivened Broadway shows," according to obituary writer Bruce Weber of the New York Times. In "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Duell played Sefelt, a patient blighted by epilepsy and an aversion to his medication.

Born on August 30, 1923, Duell earned a master's degree from Yale Drama School, where he met Paul Newman, who got him a small role in "The Hustler." However, it was the theater where Sefelt thrived as a performer, appearing in Broadway shows such as ”1776,” "The Man Who Came to Dinner,” and ”A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

Duell married late in life, wedding actress Mary Barto in 2004. Their union was unpublicized and little known even among friends. Eight years later, on December 22, 2012, Duell died from respiratory failure in his Manhattan home, aged 88.

Peter Brocco

Peter Brocco played Colonel Matterson, a patient who appears to be the oldest on the ward. Born on January 16, 1903, Brocco was also among the oldest members of the cast.

After scoring his first screen role in "The Devil and the Deep," a 1932 submarine film starring Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, Brocco embarked on a long career in film, theater, and television, appearing in everything from a production of "Galileo" to "Spartacus," "Star Trek," and "The Twilight Zone."

Politically minded, Brocco was blacklisted alongside fellow Federal Theater group members in the 1950s. During this period, Congress launched "Red Scare" interrogations through the House Un-American Activities Committee in an effort to identify subversive communist threats within Hollywood, sabotaging the careers of those who they suspected to be communists or who refused to name names.

Brocco died of a heart attack on December 20, 1992, in his Laurel Canyon home. He was 89.

Dwight Marfield

Dwight Marfield played Ellsworth, an older, white-haired gentleman who loves to dance by himself. Writing in his diary, English theatre critic Kenneth Tynan lamented Marfield's death, saying, "The peerless Dwight Marfield is dead, aged seventy: the first great American eccentric comedian I ever met. He entertained, with his minute ukulele, at the first party I attended on my maiden trip to New York in 1951."

Four years after playing his ukulele at that party, Marfield won the role of Dr. Greenbow in "The Trouble With Harry," which the Guardian described as "Hitchcock's lost masterpiece." The writer described it as "lost" because the film, which was Shirley MacLaine's debut and Alfred Hitchcock's only true comedy, was something of a misfire back in 1955. Andrew Sarris of Film Culture wrote, "Hitchcock has tried his hand at high comedy with only slight success. The overall comic conceptions ... sag badly in the playing."

Marfield's appearance in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" would be one of his last. On August 15, 1978, roughly one year after starring in a Broadway revival of "The Cherry Orchard" at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Marfield died, aged 70.