When the creators and cast of Gilmore Girls reunited on stage during the ATX Festival in Austin, Texas there was one empty chair on the stage. The chair represented Edward Herrmann who played Richard Gilmore, the patriarch of the Gilmore family, who had passed away on December 31, 2014.
Herrmann’s death wasn’t just a loss to the ATX Festival reunion — according to series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, Herrmann was the first person to agree to the reunion — and it wasn’t just a loss to the revival, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Herrmann’s passing was a loss to the acting community as a whole and a major blow to those of us lucky enough to watch and enjoy his performances.
Before playing Richard Gilmore, Herrmann had a long and successful career. An accomplished actor on the stage, Herrmann transitioned to film and television easily, working with some of the greats of the medium. He worked with Robert Redford a couple of times in The Great Gatsby and The Great Waldo Pepper. As a student in The Paper Chase he acted with the legendary John Houseman. He worked for great directors like Oliver Stone in Nixon, Woody Allen in The Purple Rose of the Cairo, the Coen Brothers in Intolerable Cruelty and Martin Scorsese in The Aviator. While he rarely played the hero he always added his own special flavour to the supporting roles.
He also wasn’t afraid to get a little goofy at times. Herrmann took on the role of Herman Munster in the odd ‘90s TV movie Here Comes the Munsters. I remember having this movie on a tape when I was a kid and watching it a lot. While I’m sure the seams would show a lot more if I watched it now, as a childhood memory the movie, and Herrmann’s warm, dopey performance in particular, it’s perfect.
There are two other roles he played that mean the most to me. The first is Max in The Lost Boys. Herrmann was perfectly suited to play the kind, mild-mannered and slightly mysterious Max, the man who was eventually revealed to be the head vampire at the end of the film. I watched this movie a lot as a kid, obviously, because it’s great. While there are more memorable aspects in The Lost Boys — the soundtrack, Kiefer Sutherland, how gloriously gay it is — I appreciated Herrmann’s performance more and more as I grew up. Max as a character, and the ultimate reveal, just wouldn’t have worked as well without him. The other role I mentioned is Harrison Beecher, the father of one of the main characters in HBO’s prison drama, Oz. Any time Herrmann showed up he played the same role for the viewer as he did for his character’s son. He was a warm, calming presence in all of the danger and despair. Unfortunately, he was also another way for the character and the audience to have its heart broken. Again, without Herrmann’s performance we wouldn’t feel nearly as strongly for a character who only appeared in a handful of episodes.
Of course, the best role Edward Herrmann ever played was Richard Gilmore. As the lone male member of the GIlmore clan, Richard had to seamlessly blend in with them and stand apart from them at times as well. It’s a trickier role than it seems, and Herrmann’s performance matches it perfectly while simultaneously making it seem easy. Richard was above all else loving. While firm when he needed to be he was also open and accessible to his wife, his daughter and, above all, his granddaughter. Richard and Rory had one of the best relationships in the show, her wisdom-beyond-her-years matching his youthful playfulness.
Most of the characters in Gilmore Girls lived and died based on their performances. The scripts and dialogue have such a particular cadence and flow that any actor who couldn’t get a grip on it seemed lost at sea. Richard is a special case as well. The character has most of his scenes with the Gilmore Girls themselves: the three most verbose characters in the series. Casting Herrmann was a master stroke in that regard. He had an expert’s understanding of the theatrical wordplay and was up there with the very best when it came to delivering the show’s particular dialogue.
Watching the trailer for the revival was heartening when it came to the role Richard would play. His absence seems to loom large — almost literally in the case of the giant portrait — in the lives of the Gilmores. Emily’s journey in particular, moving on without Richard, looks to be one of the best and more heartbreaking storylines. While I’ll miss Herrmann, and I’m deeply saddened he didn’t get to take part in the revival, I’m glad that empty chair will always be there for him.