William Hickey (actor)

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William Hickey
William Hickey, c. 1960s
William Edward Hickey

(1927-09-19)September 19, 1927
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedJune 29, 1997(1997-06-29) (aged 69)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Years active1938–1997
Height5 ft 6 in (168 cm)

William Edward Hickey (September 19, 1927 – June 29, 1997) was an American actor. He is best known for his Academy Award-nominated role as Don Corrado Prizzi in the John Huston film Prizzi's Honor (1985), as well as Uncle Lewis in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) and the voice of Dr. Finkelstein in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

Early life[edit]

Hickey was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Edward and Nora Hickey, both of Irish descent.[1] He had an older sister, Dorothy Finn. Hickey began acting on radio in 1938.[2]

He grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and Richmond Hill, Queens.[3]


Hickey had a long, distinguished career in film, television and stage. He began his career as a child actor on the variety stage and made his Broadway debut as a walk-on in the 1951 production of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan, starring Uta Hagen. He performed often during the golden age of television, including appearances on Studio One and Philco Playhouse. His most important contribution to the arts, however, remains his teaching career at the HB Studio[4] in Greenwich Village, founded by Herbert Berghof. George Segal, Jeanie Columbo, Sandy Dennis, Barbra Streisand, Cyprienne Gabel and Sandra McClain all studied under him. He kept a flask behind the sink in the basement studio of HB where he taught. He stated it helped him cope with bad acting. He was a staple of Ben Bagley's New York musical revues, he can be heard on several of the recordings, notably Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter.

Hickey enjoyed a career in film, television and theater. In addition to his work as an actor, he was a respected teacher of the craft. Notable for his unique, gravelly voice and somewhat offbeat appearance, Hickey, in his later years, was often cast in "cantankerous-but-clever old man" roles. His characters, who sometimes exuded an underlying air of the macabre, usually had the last laugh over their more sprightly co-stars. One of his early roles was a suspect in the 1968 film The Boston Strangler.

His most notable onscreen role was that of the gravelly voiced Don Corrado Prizzi in Prizzi's Honor (1985), for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Hickey portrayed Don Corrado as sharp-witted and cunning, despite his frail physical state, and shared key scenes with Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson.


Hickey died from emphysema and bronchitis in 1997. His remains are interred in the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn. He died during the filming of Uzo's Better Than Ever, and his role was played by the producer in a pick-up shot depicting his character in the hospital. His final movie, Knocking on Death's Door (in which he plays the town sheriff), was released nearly two years after his death. The movie Mouse Hunt (in which he also appeared) is dedicated to his memory.[5]

Notable credits[edit]

New York City theatre[edit]




Year Title Award Result
1985 Prizzi's Honor Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor Nominated
LAFCA Award for Best Supporting Actor Runner-up*
NSFC Award for Best Supporting Actor
1990 Tales from the Crypt Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
Season 2, Episode 8: "The Switch"

*John Gielgud won both awards for his performances in Plenty and The Shooting Party.


  1. ^ William Hickey – Bucks County Playhouse roles Archived April 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ William Hickey Biography – Yahoo! Movies Archived March 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Van Gelder, Lawrence. "William Hickey, Actor, 69, Dies; Played a Wise Old Don in Prizzi", The New York Times, July 1, 1997. Accessed March 4, 2019. "Mr. Hickey, born in Brooklyn, said his upbringing in Flatbush and in Richmond Hill, Queens, in a close Irish family helped him to understand the family loyalty of the murderous Prizzis."
  4. ^ Hickey udio/alumni/ HB Studio Alumni
  5. ^ "MouseHunt summary".

External links[edit]