Reports of the death of the actor Rip Torn have focused largely on his exploits (attacking Norman Mailer with a hammer) and on what he represented in the Hollywood ecosystem - a malevolent kind of masculinity which reached its apex with actors like Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper.
But in some ways, the most striking thing about Rip Torn was the extraordinary breadth of his career.
There were his early roles in such high-profile films as Baby Doll, surprising cult choices (The Man Who Fell to Earth), big franchises (Men in Black) and art-house cool (Marie Antoinette).
And that's before we get to TV (he portrayed Artie the producer for six years on The Larry Sanders Show) or Broadway, where he was particularly noted for his performances in the work of Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill.
This is why it's better to be a character actor. Had Torn forged a career as a handsome lead, he might have ended up confined to crude stereotyping like his Hero's Island co-star Neville Brand or struggled to get any work at all.
Whatever happened to the career of Peter Kastner, that bright young thing who took top billing (playing Torn's son) in Francis Ford Coppola's Oscar-nominated comedy, You're a Big Boy Now?
Kastner's obscurity encapsulates the lot of the leading man or woman: in Hollywood, particularly, you have to be bankable because the success of a film rests largely on your shoulders.
You also have to be beautiful - and looks, as we all know, have an annoying tendency to fade.
"Pity the pretty" opined the not-so-shabby Peter O'Toole nearly half a century after he had had a nose job in an effort to please prospective casting directors. For women, the problem is notoriously worse.
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Where was the longevity in the career of Gina Lollobrigida or Sophia Loren? Character actors, on the other hand, have rather more freedom. They are more likely to add to the general effectiveness of a film with a piquant cameo or a spritzy supporting role and have many more opportunities to build on their range. They are ultimately more employable.
Looking on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), it's clear to see that the actors with the most credits (aside from those engaged in pornography or Bollywood) are never what you would call a lead - familiar names such as Donald Pleasence, Robert Loggia or a league of Carradines (John, Keith and David) who could be relied on to deliver the goods either through versatility (Pleasence) or reliability (Loggia spent decades playing authority figures).
For years, the epitome of character actor success was Pete Postlethwaite, a man famously described as having "a face like a clenched fist" who went from grassroots theatre work with the Liverpool Everyman to Hollywood acclaim. After working with Postlethwaite on the sequel to Jurassic Park , director Steven Spielberg described him as "the best actor in the world".
And there are more who constantly delight. Think of Imelda Staunton, who has mined the depths of despair in films such as Vera Drake and switched effortlessly to unforgettable comic roles in things like Pride.
Cynics might say: "Well, that's acting," but the pool of those with Staunton's range is surprisingly small.
Another Mike Leigh stalwart, Lesley Manville, is an interesting case of the endurance of the character actor. An alumnus of Italia Conti, Manville plugged away to much industry acclaim (but little recognition outside) for 40-odd years before hitting the big time with acclaimed classical stage roles such as Mrs Alving in Ghosts and Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey into Night.
Last year, aged 61, she won an Oscar nomination for her role as Daniel Day-Lewis's sister in Phantom Thread.
Like all the best character actors, Manville knows when to give strong support on the sidelines and when to lure you into the moral complexity of the characters she plays.Of course, there is another type of character actor - the character lead.
In Hollywood, this is epitomised by Meryl Streep, who manages to both be a star and a chameleon, who is defined by the different roles that she plays. There are UK equivalents with actresses such as Judi Dench or Helen Mirren. Like Postlethwaite, Staunton and Manville, both women began their careers on stage and there are some who say that the decline of repertory theatre - in which you play lots of different parts over a short season - has removed a crucial training ground for would-be character actors.
But thankfully there is evidence to suggest that these talents, who are the backbone of British acting, have yet to be replaced by the pouting model-turned-actors you might see on Hollyoaks. There is plenty of young talent - Patsy Ferran, Arinze Kene, Phoebe Fox, Josh O'Connor - who confirm this to be true.
Freddie Jones may be best known among younger viewers for his role in Emmerdale , but had a long career in all manner of film, TV and theatre - from the boorish Sir Pitt Crawley in Vanity Fair to the original, monstrous thesp "Sir" in the stage production of Ronald Harwood's The Dresser. His son Toby said his father would never use the term "character actor" because he felt rather hemmed in by it. But the fact is that Jones pretty much defines character acting and is doing very well because of it.
"People seem to like heroes to have symmetrical faces," he said. "But they need the characters around them to be less handsome, less immediately symmetrical." And he's right. Heroes come and go. It's those craggy, interesting, enigmatic performers such as his father and Rip Torn who endure. Pity the pretty indeed.