March 09, 2004 02:28 PM

Robert Pastorelli, 49, the comedic tough guy best known for his role as Eldin the house painter on TV’s “Murphy Brown,” was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home on Monday, coroner’s officials tell the Associated Press.

Coroner’s Lt. Ed Winter says Pastorelli’s body was found by his assistant before 3 p.m. in a bathroom. An autopsy is planned, but authorities say drug paraphernalia was found and the death may be drug-related.

Just last month, Pastorelli finished work on “Be Cool,” the sequel to 1995’s “Get Shorty,” in which he plays hit man Joe Loop.

“I am still unable to grasp this tragic news,” “Be Cool” director F. Gary Gray told AP. “Robert was a true professional and a total delight to work with. My heart goes out to his family, and he will be sorely missed.”

Pastorelli, born in New Brunswick, N.J., was a boxer before turning to acting. After working in theater, he made his way to Hollywood, starting with a bit part on TV’s “Barney Miller.” “I was always the henchman, the shooter, the holdup man,” Pastorelli told PEOPLE in 1989.

After a series of small parts (including one on “Night Court,” playing a pimp who beat up Santa Claus) he moved onto films such as “Outrageous Fortune,” “Beverly Hills Cop II” and “Dances with Wolves.” But his biggest part turned out to be CBS’s hit sitcom “Murphy Brown,” and from 1988-1994 he played opposite Candice Bergen as her quirky house painter, Eldin.

“You never see Eldin painting, do you?” Pastorelli told PEOPLE. “Eldin’s an artist. He doesn’t just paint a wall white. There’s a vision there. He sets a scene. He’s a painter for all seasons.”

This is not the first tragedy to befall the Pastorelli home, AP reports. In 1999, his girlfriend, Charemon Jonovich, 25, was found fatally shot, which police believed was accidental. The pair also had a daughter together.

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