Peter C. Collins, 80, actor who appeared on Broadway, television

January 27, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Peter C. Collins, a versatile character actor who appeared on Broadway as well as in the HBO drama series The Wire during more than 50 years in the industry, died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack at his Timonium home. He was 80.

Appearing on numerous television soap operas in the 1960s and 1970s, he employed his deep, resonant voice for the many commercials he recorded for oil companies, drug companies, airlines and breweries. After living in New York, he moved to the Baltimore area more than a decade ago.

"He was the quintessential character actor," said Pat Moran, a Baltimore casting agent who placed him as a judge in an episode of The Wire that aired last year. "Peter was most believable. He could be a regular guy, an attorney or just somebody's grandfather."

Born in Kenosha, Wis., he studied engineering at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. His education was interrupted by World War II service in the Army. He landed shortly after D-Day at the ruined port of Cherbourg, France, and was later shot while on a reconnaissance mission.

"My helmet was blown off, and a bullet went through my shoulder and upper arm. I looked back and saw a big hole in the front part of my helmet," Mr. Collins wrote of the incident.

"The bullet went into the back of my neck. I figured they would kill me if I stayed where I was, so I got up and ran forward. Then I got a bullet through my leg and fell down in a small defilade I had spotted. ... I crawled to a pillbox where a medic put bandages on my wounds. I took my sulfa pills and then a lieutenant came and told me that we were pulling back and that he would give me a fifteen-minute start and a guy to go with me. A year and half in the hospital followed."

After the war, he earned a marketing degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee, and while studying radio, he met his future wife, the former Gloria Krueger, who also performed in radio and appeared in several print ads with him. The couple married in 1952; she died in 1999.

"They decided they had to go to one coast or the other, and they chose New York," said their daughter, Stacy Collins O'Conor of Timonium.

Mr. Collins made his Broadway debut in the 1958 drama The Night Circus, which starred Ben Gazzara. The play ran just seven performances.

Before moving to Timonium in the early 1990s, Mr. Collins worked on and off Broadway, in stock companies and in television soap operas, including Guiding Light, As the World Turns, All My Children, and Love of Life. His voice was used in commercials for Sunoco, Bayer Aspirin, Dristan Nasal Mist, Magnavox, Pan-Am and the Chevrolet Geo.

"It was the residuals from those commercials that appeared so many times, season after season, that put us through college," his daughter said.

A funeral Mass was offered yesterday at the Roman Catholic Church of the Nativity, 20 E. Ridgely Road, Timonium, where he was a member.

He is also survived by a son, Peter K. Collins of Newborn, Mass.; a sister, Marilyn Ferris of Naperville, Ill.; and five grandchildren.

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