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‘Maybe I was intimidated by my father’s talent and success,’ admitted Miguel Ferrer, son of acclaimed actors José Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney, in an interview with A.V. Club when looking back on his first steps into the film industry in the early 1980s. ‘I also had a previous career. I was a musician and did moderately well at that. I made an enjoyable living as a very young man, but I think as I became more comfortable and knowledgeable about myself and what I wanted, I moved into acting. I came to it rather late — later than most. I just really wanted to try my hand and thankfully it worked out for the most part.’
Born in Santa Monica in 1955, the year after his mother appeared alongside Bing Crosby in the festive classic White Christmas, Miguel Ferrer grew up within the heart of the entertainment industry and in 1974, at the age of nineteen, made his recording debut as a session drummer for The Who‘s Keith Moon, whose was attemptting to launch a solo career as a singer with Two Sides of the Moon. It would be several years later that he would take his first steps into professional acting with a guest appearance in the popular television series Magnum P.I., in which he would portray a younger version of his father.
Around the same time that his cousin George Clooney struggled through a variety of minor roles in TV shows, Ferrer made a brief appearance in the blockbuster Star Trek III: The Search for Spock but soon he would soon develop an onscreen persona with a succession of characters who were often villainous or unsavoury, his most recognised of which was that of Bob Morton, the sleazy creator of the titular cyborg in Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi classic RoboCop. ‘I hate to keep saying all these good things, because it must be pretty boring to write about, but RoboCop was maybe the best summer of my entire life,’ he would later admit. ‘I woke up every day and when I was looking at myself in the mirror shaving, I just couldn’t believe my good fortune. I was the happiest guy probably in the state during that time.’
RoboCop would lead to a certain degree of typecasting and Ferrer soon found himself cast as unsympathetic or morally ambiguous characters, with further roles in Sean S. Cunningham’s horror fantasy DeepStar Six and Tony Scott’s vigilante thriller Revenge. In 1990 Ferrer returned to the small screen for what would become arguably his most famous role, that of FBI forensics specialist Albert Rosenfield in David Lynch’s surreal soap opera Twin Peaks. ‘Everyone had a sense that we were doing something really different,’ recalled Ferrer in an interview with ScreamSlam twenty-four years later. Following a venture into comedy with the action sequel Another Stakeout and Rambo spoof Hot Shots! Part Deux, Ferrer appeared in the pilot episode of the medical drama E.R., a show which would ultimately make a star out of his younger cousin George.
During the 1990s he would appear in two Stephen King adaptations, an ambitious mini-series based on the 1978 novel The Stand and the low budget horror The Night Flier. As the new decade dawned Ferrer found himself in more respected projects such as Steven Soderbergh’s critically acclaimed drama Traffic and a remake of the Frank Sinatra classic The Manchurian Candidate. Ferrer continued to enjoy success on television with an array of recurring roles in such varied shows as Bionic Woman and Desperate Housewives but it would be his turn as Assistant Director Owen Granger on NCIS: Los Angeles that would introduce him to a new generation of TV viewers.
In October 2016, after four years on the show, rumours began to circulate that Ferrer would be leaving the show and some news sources cited the reason as being health-related. ‘As it stands, there has been no official word on any major health concerns with regards to the actor,’ claimed the Morning Ledger, ‘so the question, ‘did Miguel Ferrer suffer a stroke?’ as well as reports on his deteriorating health should be taken with a grain of salt. From the information we have at hand, it doesn’t seem so and the actor seems healthy.’ There was also some concern that both Ferrer’s parents had died from cancer – José from colon and Rosemary from lung – and that this could be hereditary.Ferrer passed away from throat cancer on 19 January at the age of sixty-one, almost twenty-five years to the day after his father died. R. Scott Gemmill, who had offered Ferrer the role of Granger, issued a statement offering his condolences to the late actor. ‘Today, NCIS: Los Angeles lost a beloved family member,’ declared Gemmill. ‘Miguel was a man of tremendous talent who had a powerful dramatic presence on screen, a wicked sense of humour and a huge heart. Our thoughts go out to his wife Lori, his sons and his entire family. He will be greatly missed.’
George Clooney, whose first break cam when Ferrer invited him to work as an extra on the 1982 movie And They’re Off, has paid respect to his cousin, whom he also collaborated with on The Harvest in the early 1990s. ‘Today history will mark giant changes in our world, and lost to most will be that on the same day Miguel Ferrer lost his battle to throat cancer. But not lost to his family,’ Clooney told the People. ‘Miguel made the world brighter and funnier and his passing is felt so deeply in our family that events of the day, (monumental events), pale in comparison. We love you Miguel. We always will.’