Peter Lawrence Boyle Jr., Irish American character actor and comedian, is born on October 18, 1935 in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He is most noted for his role as Frank Barone on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond and the comical monster in Mel Brooks‘s film spoof Young Frankenstein (1974).
Boyle is born to Alice (Lewis) and Francis Xavier Boyle. His paternal grandparents are Irish immigrants, and his mother is of mostly French and British Isles descent. He eventually moves to Philadelphia, where his father is a sought-after local TV personality and children’s show host. Following a solid Catholic upbringing, he is a sensitive youth and joins the Christian Brothers religious order at one point while attending La Salle University in Philadelphia. He leaves the monastery after only a few years when he “lost” his calling.
Bent on an acting career, Boyle initially studies with guru Uta Hagen in New York. The tall, hulking, prematurely bald actor wannabe struggles through a variety of odd jobs as a postal worker, waiter and bouncer while simultaneously building up his credits on stage and waiting for that first big break. Things start progressing for him after appearing in the national company of The Odd Couple in 1965 and landing TV commercials on the sly. In the late 1960s Boyle joins Chicago‘s The Second City improv group and makes his Broadway debut as a replacement for Peter Bonerz in Paul Sills’ Story Theatre (1971).
Boyle gains acclaim for his first starring role, playing the title character, a bigoted New York City factory worker, in the 1970 movie Joe, directed by John G. Avildsen. The film’s release is surrounded by controversy over its violence and language. The role leads to major notoriety, however, and some daunting supporting parts in T.R. Baskin (1971), Slither (1973) and as Robert Redford‘s calculating campaign manager in The Candidate (1972). During this time his political radicalism finds a visible platform after joining Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland on anti-war crusades, which also includes the anti-establishment picture Steelyard Blues (1973). This period also sees the forging of a strong friendship with former Beatle John Lennon.
Destined to be cast as monstrous undesirables throughout much of his career, Boyle plays a monster of another sort in his early film days, and thus avoids a complete stereotype as a film abhorrent. His hilarious, sexually potent Frankenstein’s Monster in the cult Mel Brooks spoof Young Frankenstein (1974) sees him in a sympathetic and certainly more humorous vein. His creature’s first public viewing, in which Boyle shares an adroit tap-dancing scene with “creator” Gene Wilder in full Fred Astaire regalia, is a show-stopping audience pleaser. Late 1970s filmgoers continue to witness him in seamy, urban settings with brutish roles in Taxi Driver (1976) and Hardcore (1979). At the same time he addresses several TV mini-movie roles with the same brilliant darkness such as his Senator Joe McCarthy in Tail Gunner Joe (1977), for which he receives an Emmy nomination, and his murderous, knife-wielding Fatso in the miniseries remake of From Here to Eternity (1979).
While the following decade finds Boyle in predominantly less noteworthy filming and a short-lived TV series lead as remote cop Joe Bash (1986), the 1990s bring him Emmy glory for a guest role in an episode of The X-Files (1993). Despite a blood clot-induced stroke in 1990 that impairs his speech for six months, he ventures on and caps his enviable career on TV wielding funny but crass one-liners in the “Archie Bunker” mold on the long-running sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (1996). A major Emmy blunder has him earning seven nominations for his Frank Barone character without a win, the only prime player on the show unhonored. He survives a heart attack while on the set of Everybody Loves Raymond in 1999, but manages to return full time for the remainder of the series’ run through 2005.
Following a superb turn as Billy Bob Thornton‘s unrepentantly racist father in the sobering Oscar-winner Monster’s Ball (2001), the remainder of Boyle’s films are primarily situated in frivolous comedy fare such as The Adventures of Pluto Nash (2002), The Santa Clause 2 (2002), Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (2004), and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006), typically playing cranky curmudgeons.
Boyle dies of multiple myeloma and heart disease at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital on December 12, 2006. He is interred at Green River Cemetery in Springs, New York. At the time of his death, he has completed his role in the film All Roads Lead Home and is scheduled to appear in The Golden Boys. The end credits of All Roads Lead Home include a dedication to his memory.