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Jason Nelson Robards, Jr. (July 26, 1922 – December 26, 2000) was an Americanmarker actor on stage and in film and television and a winner of the Tony Award (theatre), the Academy Award (film) and the Emmy Award (television). He was also a United States Navy combat veteran of World War II.

He became famous playing works of Eugene O'Neill, an Americanmarker playwright, and regularly performed in O'Neill's works throughout his career. Robards was cast in both common-man roles and as well-known historical figures.

Early life and education

Robards was born in Chicagomarker, Illinoismarker, the son of Hope Maxine (née Glanville) Robards and Jason Robards, Sr., an actor who regularly appeared on the stage and in such early films as The Gamblers (1929) and was among the better-known actors of the first half of the twentieth century.

The family moved to New York Citymarker, New Yorkmarker, when Jason Jr. was still a toddler, and then moved to Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker, when he was six years old. Later interviews with Robards suggested that the trauma of his parents' divorce, which occurred during his grade-school years, greatly affected his personality and worldview.

As a youth Robards also witnessed first-hand the decline of his father's acting career — the elder Robards had enjoyed considerable success during the era of silent films, but he fell out of favor after the advent of "talkies" (sound film), leaving the younger Robards soured on the Hollywood film industry.

The teenaged Robards excelled in athletics, running a 4:18 mile during his junior year at Hollywood High School in Los Angeles. Although his prowess in sports attracted interest from several universities, upon his graduation in 1940 Robards decided to join the Navy.

Naval service in World War II

As a radioman 3rd class in the Navy, Robards joined a heavy cruiser warship, the USS Northampton (CA-26) in 1941. On December 7, 1941 — the date of Imperial Japanese Navy's attack on Pearl Harbormarker, Hawaiimarker, which brought the U.S. into World War II — he was aboard the Northhampton in the Pacific Oceanmarker 100 miles at sea. Contrary to some stories, he witnessed the devastation of the attack only afterwards, when the Northampton returned to Pearl Harbormarker two days later. The Northampton was later directed into the Guadalcanal campaignmarker in World War II's Pacific theater, where she participated in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.

During the Battle of Tassafaronga on Guadalcanal on the night of November 30, 1942, the Northampton was sunk by hits from two Japanese torpedoes. Robards found himself treading water until near daybreak, when he was rescued by an American destroyer warship. Although a 1979 column by Hy Gardner stated that Robards was awarded the U.S. Navy Cross and "13 battle stars" (actually awarded to the ship, not the individual), Robards's name does not appear on any official or semi-official rolls of Navy Cross recipients.

Two years later, in November 1944, Robards was in another dramatic engagement — this time as a radioman on the USS Nashville (CL-43) which was the flagship for the invasion of Mindoro in the northern Philippinesmarker. On December 13 she was struck by a kamikaze aircraft off Negros Islandmarker in the Philippines. The aircraft itself hit one of the port five-inch gun mounts while her two bombs set the midsection ablaze. There were 223 casualties and the Nashville was forced to return to Pearl Harbor and then to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyardmarker in Bremertonmarker, Washingtonmarker, for repairs.

It was on the Nashville that Robards first found a copy of Eugene O’Neill’s play Strange Interlude in the ship’s library. It was also in the Navy that he first started thinking seriously about being an actor. He had emceed for a Navy band in Pearl Harbor, gotten a few laughs and decided he liked it. His father suggested he enroll in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York Citymarker, New Yorkmarker.


Robards decided to get into acting after the war and his career started out slowly. He moved to New York City and found small parts — first in radio and then on the stage. His big break was landing the starring role in José Quintero's 1956 off-Broadway-theatre production and the later 1960 television film of O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, portraying the philosophical salesman Hickey; he won an Obie Award for his stage performance. He later portrayed Hickey again in a 1985 Broadwaymarker revival also staged by Quintero, who also directed Robards in Broadway productions of O'Neill's plays: Long Day's Journey Into Night (1988), Hughie (1964), A Touch of the Poet (1977) and A Moon for the Misbegotten (1973). He repeated his role in Long Day's Journey Into Night in the 1962 film and televised his performances in A Moon for the Misbegotten (1975) and Hughie (1984).

Robards also appeared on stage in a revival of Neill's Ah, Wilderness! (1988) directed by Arvin Brown, as well as Lillian Hellman's Toys in the Attic (1960), Arthur Miller's After the Fall, (1964) Clifford Odets's The Country Girl (1972) and Harold Pinter's No Man's Land (1994).

He had made his film debut in the two-reel comedy Follow That Music (1946), but after his Broadway success he was invited to make his feature debut in The Journey (1959). He became a familiar face to movie audiences throughout the 1960s, notably for his performances in A Thousand Clowns (1965) (repeating his stage performance), The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968), and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

Robards played three different U.S. presidents in film - namely Abraham Lincoln in The Perfect Tribute (1991) (as well as a television production of Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1964)); Ulysses S. Grant in The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) (a role he also voiced in the PBS miniseries The Civil War) (1990), and Franklin D. Roosevelt in FDR: The Final Years (1980). He also created a sensation as the fictional president Richard Monckton (based on Richard Nixon) in the television miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors (1977). Additionally, he voiced a number of documentaries, including Ken Burns's Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio (1991).


Robards received eight Tony Award nominations, — more than any other male actor . He won the Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for his work in The Disenchanted, (1959); this was also his only stage appearance with his father.

He received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in consecutive years for All the President's Men (1976) for portraying Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and Julia (1977) for portraying writer Dashiell Hammett (1977). He was also nominated for another Academy Award for his role as Howard Hughes in Melvin and Howard (1980).

Robards received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor – Miniseries or a Movie for Inherit the Wind (1988).

In 1997, Robards received the U.S. National Medal of Arts, the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people. Recipients are selected by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts and is awarded by the U.S. President.

In 1999, he was among the recipients at the Kennedy Center Honors, an annual honor given to those in the performing arts for their lifetime of contributions to American culture.

Personal life

Robards had six children from his four marriages, including actor Jason Robards III (born 1949) by his first wife, Eleanor Pittman; and actor Sam Robards by his third wife, actress Lauren Bacall, to whom he was married in 1961 and from whom he was divorced in 1969.

In 1972, he was involved in an automobile accident on a winding California road. He drove his car into the side of a mountain and nearly died. His acute alcoholism contributed to the accident. He slowly recovered after extensive surgery and facial reconstruction.

Robards was a major U.S. Civil War buff and scholar and in that vein, he ultimately portrayed Lincoln and later the voice of Grant.

A resident of the Southportmarker section of Fairfieldmarker, Connecticutmarker, Robards died of lung cancer in Bridgeport, Connecticutmarker, on December 26, 2000; he was cremated.

His death was mourned by both fans and actors. "He was the last of a breed of actors who dedicated themselves to a life in the theater. Without asking for the role, he was our elder statesman," said actor Kevin Spacey.


The Jason Robards Award was created by the Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City in his honor and his relationship with the theatre.

Actress Jennifer Jason Leigh chose her middle name in honor of Robards.






  1. Jason Robards genealogy.
  2. Bloomfield, Gary L.; Shain, Stacie L., with Davidson, Arlen C., (2004). Duty, Honor, Applause — America's Entertainers in World War II. p. 264. Lyon's Press, Guilford, Connecticut. ISBN 1592285503
  3. Gardner, Hy. Panorama magazine, Vol. II, No. 1, Sunday Daily Herald, January 7, 1979, p. 2
  4. Sterner, C. Douglas. Index: Recipients of the Navy Cross, All Wars/All Periods, All Branches of Service. Pueblo CO, 2006
  5. The New York Times Magazine, January 20, 1974
  6. Black, Steven A., et al. (editors) (2002). Jason Robards Remembered — Essays and Recollections. McFarland & Co., Jefferson, North Carolina. ISBN 978-0786413560.
  7. "American Theatre Wing".
  8. "Oscars data base of nominees and winners".
  9. "Emmy Awards Database of nominees and winners".
  10. "Kennedy Center list of Honorees".
  11. "From the Archives" feature ("The Week of July 8") of The Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut), July 9, 2007, page A7, Stamford edition.
  12. The New York Times, February 27, 2001
  13. IMDB

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