Nussbaum was recognized as the oldest professional actor in America by Actors Equity
CHICAGO (WLS) -- A Chicagoan recognized as the oldest professional actor in the country has died at the age of 99.
Mike Nussbaum was a fixture in the Chicago theater community for decades, a working actor right up until the end.
"He was the dean of the Chicago school of acting," said Northlight Theatre Artistic Director B.J. Jones.
Jones was friends with Nussbaum for nearly 50 years. A native Chicagoan, Nussbaum was recognized by Actors Equity as the oldest professional actor in the America.
"He was born and bred here, and his wife was here, and his kids, and that was vitally important to him," Jones said. "Mike was a committed family man as well as an artist, and I believe that is what informed his art."
Nussbaum fielded calls from Hollywood, even appearing in films including "Men in Black," "Fatal Attraction" and "Field of Dreams."
"He worked in New York and LA, but he always came home to Chicago," Jones said.
Back in 2019, Nussbaum was on stage in Chicago Shakespeare's production of "Hamlet" at age 95. In an interview with ABC7, he explained why he was still acting.
"I get more fun out of this than I would out of anything else I love. I would hate to have to give it up," he said.
In the end, he never gave it up. Jones brought his friend a script just this past Tuesday. Jones said Nussbaum would show up to a first read with his part totally memorized, leaving younger counterparts in awe.
"They scurried home to memorize. Let me tell you, he would, he would blow you away at the first reading. And he was as great at the first reading as he was on closing night," Jones said.
Stewart Talent, the agency that represented Nussbaum, released a statement on Saturday, saying, "We at Stewart Talent mourn the loss of one of the greatest titans of our industry, the legendary Mike Nussbaum, who passed today at his home at the age of 99. Mike was recognized as the oldest professional actor in America by Actors Equity. His work on stage and screen alike will be forever remembered by all of us, everyone in Chicago, and the nation at large. We're so grateful to have known and loved Mike, and send all condolences and love to his family."
Steppenwolf Theatre Company ensemble members William Petersen and Amy Morton also released statements following Nussbaum's death.
"Mike's the reason I stayed in Chicago and did theatre. He told me, if I stayed here, I would become an actor. He was right. I loved him," Petersen said.
"Mike was a great actor and a wonderful collaborator. He was a grounded, generous and inspiring human being. A real gentleman," Morton said.
Jones said his friend was an inspiration and a role model, and he believes Nussbaum's passion for his family and his art is what led to his long and happy life.