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27th Jun 2023

Titanic actor Lew Palter has died aged 94

‘He got to a beautiful 94. The proof is in the pudding’

Titanic star Lew Palter has died. He was 94.

The actor, perhaps best remembered for his role as real-life department store magnate Isidor Straus, who embraced his wife in bed, in James Cameron’s 1997 drama, Titanic, passed away from lung cancer at his Los Angeles home on May 21.

His daughter Catherine announced the news in a statement on Monday, writing that her dad, “As a teacher, he seemed to have truly changed people’s lives.”

Palter was also a professor at the CalArts School of Theater and his students included four-time Oscar nominee Ed Harris, Oscar nominee Don Cheadle, and two-time Emmy nominee Cecily Strong during the 42 years he spent there, before retiring in 2013.

In a lengthy post on Instagram, Strong said Lew grew to a “beautiful 94”.

“What a great teacher. Lew Palter. Scratched his big giant ears and hit his “Ks” so wet and reminded us often that as the great Bertold Brecht said, ‘The proof is in the pudding’,” she wrote.

Strong, who graduated from CalArts in 2006, continued: “Lew directed me in my second favourite play at CalArts – Anton in Show Business by Jane Martin with all the other girls who weren’t cast in the big shows our second year.

“We started out feeling defeated because we weren’t picked for the bigger shows but ended up feeling like we were in the best show of the season because people loved it (and the proof is in the pudding after all). I played a Polish director named Wikewich and I got to scream to the audience how “I f*** you with my art.”

“Lew told me he thought I should take a class at the Groundlings. I said no way I’m a serious actor. Turns out Lew was right. I took the class at the Groundlings.

“It brought me back to Chicago to study improv there. Then I ended up auditioning for Lorne Michaels. Thanks Lew.

“And thanks because for so many years I got to brag that my teacher was the old guy in Titanic that chose to stay in bed. Lew knew how to live life well. How to teach students to be not only better actors but better people. He got to a beautiful 94. The proof is in the pudding.”

CalArts School of Theater Dean Travis Preston said in a statement: “Lew loved the craft of acting and taught his students to do the same. He fostered deep curiosity, care, intellect and humor in every scene, play and class. “He had the utmost respect of his students and encouraged all to find truth in their work and lives.”

Lew also starred in other films such as First Monday in October, The Flying Nun, Hill Street Blues, and L.A. Law and directed numerous off-Broadway plays including Tom Topor’s drama Nuts for the Los Angeles Stage Company.

He is survived by his daughter, Catherine Read Palter from his 64-year marriage to L.A. Law actress Nancy Vawter, who passed away in 2020, and three grandchildren; Sam, Tessa, and Miranda.

Lew’s passing comes amid a spike of interest around the Titanic sinking following the Titan submersible tragedy that claimed five lives last week.

Wendy Rush – the widow of late OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush – is descended from Isidor and Ida Straus, the wealthy New York couple who Lew and Elsa Raven played in the blockbuster.

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