James Farentino, a handsome, darkly intense actor who also made headlines thanks to his fiery private life, died of heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Hospital on Tuesday after a lengthy illness, a family spokesman told the Associated Press. He was 73.
A “Most Promising Newcomer” Golden Globe winner in 1967, Farentino racked up 100 TV credits, including his 1978 Emmy-nominated Saint Peter on the mini-series Jesus of Nazareth (said to be his favorite role) and recurring roles on Dynasty, Melrose Place, The Bold Ones: The Lawyers and ER, as the estranged father to George Clooney‘s character.
Among his four wives were the actresses Elizabeth Ashley and Michelle Lee, though it was his five-year, on-and-off personal relationship with Tina Sinatra, daughter of singer Frank Sinatra, that earned him unwanted attention and damaged his career.
In 1994, Farentino pleaded no contest after being charged with 24 misdemeanor counts of stalking Tina Sinatra, making harassing phone calls and violating a restraining order to stay away from her. “Sometimes they were the perfect couple,” a friend of Farentino’s told PEOPLE at the time, “and other times there’d be raging fights – yelling, screaming, name-calling, throwing things.”
Born in Brooklyn, where his father was a clothes designer, Farentino preferred watching movies to schoolwork and at 18 entered Manhattan’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts “to prove to my parents I could do something as challenging as being a doctor or lawyer,” he told PEOPLE in 1981.
He then studied with Method Acting guru Lee Strasberg, supporting himself by bartending and waiting tables. In 1961 Farentino debuted on Broadway, in The Night of the Iguana, and on TV, in a segment of the dramatic anthology Naked City.
Moving to L.A. in 1963, he signed with Universal and made The War Lord, with Charlton Heston. Later Farentino angrily refused to appear in some films he’ll identify only as “garbage” while under a seven-year contract with Universal. The studio suspended him 10 times without pay, and he became known in the trade as “Mr. Suspension.”
He appeared in Death of a Salesman on TV in 1966, and in 1972, after he had gone from costar of the NBC anthology The Bold Ones to his own series on the network, Cool Million, Farentino ran into George C. Scott.
“He told me I was going to get lost in Hollywood if I kept doing TV, and I had better get my ass back on the boards,” Farentino recalled.
A year later Farentino did One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest onstage in Chicago and starred in A Streetcar Named Desire at New York’s Lincoln Center on the play’s 25th anniversary – prompting The New York Times critic to rave that Farentino “played [Stanley] Kowalski with far more suavity than Brando.”
Two sons survive him, David and Saverio, as does his fourth wife, Stella, according to reports.