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

Dec 24, 2023, 12:40 PM

CHICAGO (AP) — Mike Nussbaum, reputed as the oldest professional actor in America with a prolific stage career and roles in films including “Field of Dreams” and “Men in Black,” has died. He was 99.

He died of old age at his Chicago home on Saturday, just days before his 100th birthday, his daughter, Karen Nussbaum, told The Associated Press.

“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,” she said.

Mike Nussbaum was acknowledged by the Actor’s Equity Association union multiple times in the past several years as the oldest professional actor in the country. When asked about his status as a working nonagenarian over the years, Nussbaum said he simply enjoyed the work.

“I am gifted and lucky to still be able to do the thing that is the most fun for me in life,” he told WBEZ Chicago in 2019 when he was 94 years old. “As long as I can do it, I will.”

Born in December 1923 in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood, Nussbaum first acted in summer camps. He didn’t pursue acting full time until he was in his 40s, working for a time as an exterminator. He received his Equity card in the 1970s.

Nussbaum spent more than 50 years on stages in the Chicago area, including at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. He played Shylock in a 2005 production of “The Merchant of Venice” and Gremio in “The Taming of the Shrew,” among many other roles.

In 1984, he won a Drama Desk Award for his performance in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” which won a Pulitzer Prize the same year. Nussbaum worked with Mamet often over the years.

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

“His genius was that you couldn’t tell he was acting,” said B.J. Jones, a longtime friend and colleague who is current artistic director at Northlight. “His level of truth was unparalleled. You never saw him sweat. He wasn’t trying to draw attention to himself. ”

Though he was primarily a stage actor, his film credits included a school principal in “Field of Dreams” and in “Men in Black” as Gentle Rosenberg, whose head opens during a pivotal scene to reveal a small alien creature.

A private funeral service is planned. A public memorial service will be held next year.

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