August 2, 1943
Detroit, Michigan, United States
June 26, 2019
Hermosa Beach, California, United States
PhotosView All (1)
Though a Tony-nominated stage actor and prolific presence on television for more than three decades, Max Wright was best known for the quirky "ALF" (NBC, 1986-1990), which cast him as a suburbanite contending with a bumptious, furry alien in his home. Born George Edward Maxwell Wright on August 2, 1943 in Detroit, Michigan, he relocated to Montreal, Canada to study drama at the National Theater School. After adopting "Max" as his stage name due to the presence of another George Wright in the actors' union, Wright performed on stage in theaters across the country before making his Broadway debut in the 1968 production of "The Great White Hope." By the mid-1970s, he was working steadily in features and on television and stage: in the former capacity, he was the exasperated producer funding Roy Scheider's long-delayed musical in "All That Jazz" (1979), and played minor roles in Jonathan Demme's "Last Embrace" (1979) and Warren Beatty's "Reds" (1981), while on television, he gave a memorable turn as Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele in "Playing for Time" (CBS, 1980) and starred as the put-upon station manager of a television series terrorized by talk show host Dabney Coleman in the critically acclaimed "Buffalo Bill" (NBC, 1983-84). The stage remained his most notable showcase, thanks to roles in Broadway runs of "The Cherry Orchard" in 1977 and "Richard III" opposite Al Pacino in 1979. But Wright was probably best known for his starring role on the NBC series "ALF," which cast him as the mild-mannered head of a suburban family whose penchant for peace and quiet is disturbed by the arrival of a wise-cracking alien, performed in puppet form by series co-creator Paul Fusco. Though a ratings hit for the network, "ALF" was apparently a chore for most of its human cast, including Wright, who chafed against playing second banana to a puppet and the interminable technical demands required to preserve its illusion of life. Wright was reportedly relieved when "ALF" ran its course, and returned to steady work as a character player in films like "Snow Falling on Cedars" (1999) and featured guest appearances on television projects like "From the Earth to the Moon" (HBO, 1999), which cast him as Guenter Wendt, who oversaw the manned phase of the Apollo program for NASA. He scored a personal triumph that same year with a Tony nomination and Drama Desk Award for his performance in Anton Chekhov's "Ivanev." In 1999, he returned to series regular work on "Norm" (ABC, 1999-2001), playing the stuffy boss to former hockey star Norm Macdonald. The comedian would provide Wright with the majority of his final screen appearances, including a guest role on "A Minute with Stan Hooper" (Fox, 2003) and the pilot for a new sitcom, "Back to Norm" in 2005. Wright, who was diagnosed with and treated for lymphoma in 1995, succumbed to the disease at the age of 75 on June 26, 2019.