"I disliked high school," he once said, "and after two years of it I left without telling anyone at home."
Instead he spent his days in movie theaters.
He entered Erwin Piscator's Dramatic Workshop in 1948. Eighteen months later he auditioned for the Actors Studio run by Lee Strasberg and was accepted.
The school was a beehive of activity in those days, turning out such followers of method acting as Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Barbara Bel Geddes, Shelley Winters, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Rod Steiger and Julie Harris.
"There's a lot of voodoo about the Actors Studio," Gazzara told The Associated Press in 1966. "In the best sense it was a place for professionals to stay in touch with their craft, where newcomers and professionals mingled, to grow, to try parts they would never get in the professional theater and to even fall on their face."
Gazzara's first two marriages, to actresses Louise Erikson and Janice Rule, ended in divorce.
While filming "Inchon" in Korea in 1981, he met Krivat. They married the following year, and the union endured.
"Elke saved my life," Gazzara said in 1999. "When I met her, I was drinking too much, fooling around too much, killing myself. She put romance and hope back in my life."
He adopted Krivat's daughter, Danja, as his own. She recalled on Friday that he was a "complex soul" and that his role as a father to her and his own daughter was challenging.
"I adored Ben, and so did his daughter," she said. "But we both had difficulty with him ... I think the difficulty lay in his complexity of being an actor and those layers that you have, that you bring with you."
Besides Danja, Gazzara is survived by his wife, daughter Elizabeth and a brother.
Former Associated Press writer Bob Thomas in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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