Mike Nussbaum, prolific Chicago stage actor with film roles including ‘Field of Dreams,’ dies at 99

by Michael Nguyen
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Mike Nussbaum

Renowned Chicago stage actor Mike Nussbaum, recognized as the United States’ oldest professional actor due to his extensive stage career and notable film roles in “Field of Dreams” and “Men in Black,” has passed away at the age of 99. He peacefully succumbed to old age at his residence in Chicago on Saturday, just days before reaching his centenary milestone, according to his daughter, Karen Nussbaum, who informed The Big Big News.

Karen fondly remembers her father, stating, “He was a good father and a good man who raised us to care about other people and respect other people and care about justice.”

Mike Nussbaum’s remarkable career earned him repeated recognition from the Actor’s Equity Association as the nation’s oldest professional actor in recent years. When inquired about his enduring status as a working nonagenarian throughout his career, Nussbaum humbly expressed his love for the craft, saying, “I am gifted and lucky to still be able to do the thing that is the most fun for me in life. As long as I can do it, I will.”

Born in December 1923 in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood, Nussbaum’s initial foray into acting took place at summer camps. However, he didn’t pursue acting full-time until his 40s, spending some time working as an exterminator. It was in the 1970s that he earned his Equity card.

Nussbaum dedicated over five decades to the Chicago stage, including notable performances at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. His roles ranged from portraying Shylock in a 2005 production of “The Merchant of Venice” to Gremio in “The Taming of the Shrew,” among numerous others.

In 1984, his exceptional performance in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” earned him a Drama Desk Award, coinciding with the Pulitzer Prize won by the play that same year. Nussbaum collaborated with Mamet on numerous occasions throughout his career.

Remarkably, Nussbaum continued to perform well into his 90s, including a role as Albert Einstein in the 2017 play “Relativity” at Northlight Theatre in suburban Skokie, where he briefly served as artistic director as well.

B.J. Jones, a close friend and colleague who currently holds the position of artistic director at Northlight, praised Nussbaum’s acting prowess, saying, “His genius was that you couldn’t tell he was acting. His level of truth was unparalleled. You never saw him sweat. He wasn’t trying to draw attention to himself.”

Although primarily recognized for his stage work, Nussbaum’s film credits included portraying a school principal in “Field of Dreams” and the character Gentle Rosenberg in “Men in Black,” whose head revealed a small alien creature during a pivotal scene.

A private funeral service is scheduled, with a public memorial service planned for the coming year.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Mike Nussbaum

Q: Who was Mike Nussbaum, and what were his notable achievements?

A: Mike Nussbaum was a renowned Chicago stage actor with an impressive career. He gained recognition for his roles in films like “Field of Dreams” and “Men in Black.” He was also acknowledged as the oldest professional actor in the U.S. by the Actor’s Equity Association. Nussbaum received a Drama Desk Award for his exceptional performance in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Q: How long did Mike Nussbaum pursue his acting career?

A: Mike Nussbaum didn’t pursue acting full-time until he was in his 40s, despite initial involvement in acting at summer camps. He eventually earned his Equity card in the 1970s, dedicating over 50 years to the Chicago stage.

Q: What made Mike Nussbaum’s acting stand out?

A: Nussbaum was known for his extraordinary authenticity in performances. Colleagues and friends praised his ability to immerse himself in roles, making it seem as though he wasn’t acting at all. He was committed to his craft throughout his life.

Q: What were some of Mike Nussbaum’s significant stage roles?

A: Mike Nussbaum’s notable stage roles included Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” Gremio in “The Taming of the Shrew,” and his portrayal of Albert Einstein in “Relativity.” He performed at venues like the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Q: What were his contributions to the film industry?

A: While primarily a stage actor, Mike Nussbaum also appeared in notable films. He played a school principal in “Field of Dreams” and the character Gentle Rosenberg in “Men in Black,” which featured a memorable scene involving an alien creature.

More about Mike Nussbaum

  • Mike Nussbaum – IMDb: IMDb page providing information on Mike Nussbaum’s filmography.
  • Actor’s Equity Association: The official website of the Actor’s Equity Association, which recognized Mike Nussbaum as the oldest professional actor in the U.S.
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theater: Official website of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, where Mike Nussbaum performed in various roles.
  • David Mamet: Information about the renowned playwright David Mamet, with whom Mike Nussbaum collaborated on several occasions.
  • Drama Desk Awards: Official website of the Drama Desk Awards, where Mike Nussbaum received an award for his performance in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

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