Don Calfa, the mortician in 'The Return of the Living Dead,' dies at 76

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Don Calfa, a top-notch character actor who portrayed the embalmer Ernie Kaltenbrunner in the 1985 cult horror comedy The Return of the Living Dead, has died. He was 76.

Calfa died Thursday — two days before his birthday — at his home in Yucca Valley, Calif., actor-producer Mark Terry (Live Evil, Brother's Blood) told The Hollywood Reporter.

A native of Brooklyn, Calfa also portrayed Paulie, the hitman who murders Hamptons rich guy Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser) by giving him a heroin overdose, in the classic comedy Weekend at Bernie's (1989).

See photos of Don Calfa throughout his career:

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Don Calfa throughout his life
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Don Calfa throughout his life
BARNEY MILLER - 'Identity' - Airdate: March 1, 1979. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) JACK SOMACK;DON CALFA;RON CAREY;HAL LINDEN
BARNEY MILLER - 'The Desk' - Airdate: November 24, 1979. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) FRED SADOFF;HAL LINDEN;ALEX HENTELOFF;MAX GAIL;DON CALFA
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 13: (L-R) Actor Don Calfa and cinematographer Allen Daviau attend AMPAS 'Great To Be Nominated' series feature of 'Bugsy' at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on August 13, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 13: Actor Don Calfa attends AMPAS 'Great To Be Nominated' series feature of 'Bugsy' at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on August 13, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images)
BARNEY MILLER - 'The Desk' - Airdate: November 24, 1979. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) FRED SADOFF;HAL LINDEN;ALEX HENTELOFF;DON CALFA
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Actor Don Calfa (L) and assistant music director and sound engineer William Gazecki attend the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences' 30th anniversary of 'The Rose' at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on September 25, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 13: Actor Don Calfa attends AMPAS 'Great To Be Nominated' series feature of 'Bugsy' at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on August 13, 2007 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - APRIL 15: Actor Don Calfa participates in the 2012 Monsterpalooza held at Burbank Airport Marriott on April 15, 2012 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
BURBANK, CA - APRIL 15: Actor Don Calfa participates in the 2012 Monsterpalooza held at Burbank Airport Marriott on April 15, 2012 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
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Calfa was cast by some of the top directors of his time, including Peter Bogdanovich (1976's Nickelodeon), Martin Scorsese (1977's New York, New York), Blake Edwards (1979's 10), Steven Spielberg (1979's 1941), Bob Rafelson (the 1981 remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice)and Barry Levinson (1991's Bugsy).

Calfa also collaborated several times with director (and fellow New Yorker) Peter Hyams; they worked together on Peeper (1976), The Star Chamber (1983), Running Scared (1986), The Presidio (1988) and Stay Tuned (1992).

He also was in Cinderella Liberty (1973), Bank Shot (1974), Foul Play (1978), The Rose (1979) and the remake of Doctor Dolittle (1998).

In The Return of the Living Dead, written and directed by Dan O'Bannon, an employee at a medical supply warehouse accidentally releases toxic gas into the air in Louisville, Ky., bringing to life dead people who want nothing but to eat brains.

Calfa's blond-haired Kaltenbrunner character enjoys listening to Wehrmacht marching songs and has this memorable exchange with half of a corpse in the film:

Kaltenbrunner: Why do you eat people?
Corpse: Not people. Brains.
Kaltenbrunner: Brains only?
Corpse: Yes.
Kaltenbrunner: Why?
Corpse: The pain!
Kaltenbrunner: What about the pain?
Corpse: The pain of being dead!

On Doogie Howser, M.D., starring Neil Patrick Harris, Calfa played Carmine Delpino, the father of Doogie's best friend Vinnie (Max Casella). On Beverly Hills, 90210, he showed up as beach-house landlord Mr. Pitts. And on Barney Miller, he worked on seven episodes, playing a different character each time.

Early in his career, Calfa appeared on Broadway in Mating Dance in 1965 and Lenny in 1971.

Read more: Hollywood's Notable Deaths of 2016



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