Monday, May 14, 2001
Jason Miller dies

By Jennifer Henn Tribune Regional Staff

Jason Miller, a Scranton native who won a Pulitzer Prize for a play about his hometown and who was nominated for an Academy Award for his acting role in a horror classic, died of a massive heart attack Sunday.He was 62.

Mr. Miller won the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award in 1973 for "That Championship Season" and, that same year, was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Father Damien Karras in the horror movie "The Exorcist."

"That Championship Season," set in the Lackawanna Valley, was rooted in Mr. Miller's experience as a member of the St. Patrick's High School basketball team in the 1950s.

Of the play, Mr. Miller said earlier this year, "I think it speaks to universal experiences -- that of betrayal and that of forgiveness ... it is in a sense more of a love play than a hate play, and then there is an epiphany -- a redemption."

Mr. Miller died leaving behind his legacy -- a love of the arts, the arts in Scranton in particular.

Mr. Miller suffered a massive heart attack at about 4 p.m. He was rushed to Mercy Hospital in Scranton where he was pronounced dead nearly half an hour later, Lackawanna County Coroner Joseph Brennan said.

The actor/playwright had been under a doctor's care, Mr. Brennan said.

"We'd just come back from paying our respects to Judge (James) Walsh (at his mother's wake)," Mr. Miller's girlfriend, Dana Oxley, said Sunday. "He was fine, feeling good. Then, I don't know."

Ms. Oxley said Mr. Miller had been in good health and "was working out every day and getting ready for the summer theater."

Mr. Miller was the artistic director of the Scranton Public Theater and its Summer Theater Festival. He was slated to play Oscar Madison in the upcoming season's run of "The Odd Couple."

Like any well-written character in a good movie script or play, Jason Miller's life had an arc. He was born in Long Island City, N.Y., on April 22, 1939, to John and Mary Collins Miller, who moved to Scranton before Jason started school.

He attended city schools and graduated from St. Patrick's High School and the University of Scranton, where he studied English and philosophy, pursued acting and began writing some of his own material.

Mr. Miller proceeded to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a master's degree.

In 1963, he married Linda Mae Gleason, daughter of actor Jackie Gleason, and moved to New York, where he continued to pursue acting.

Ten years later, Mr. Miller enjoyed his most acclaimed year as a professional.

His play, "That Championship Season," also won a New York Drama Critics Award. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Father Damien Karras in "The Exorcist."

By the mid-1980s, Mr. Miller returned to his Scranton roots

He went on to work with local actor Bob Shlesinger in creating the Scranton Public Theater and launching its Summer Theater Festival. He was also a member of the board of the Pennsylvania International Film Festival.

Despite his considerable public success, Mr. Miller had a private side that included his relationship with Ms. Oxley, a Scranton attorney.

"He was my love," Ms. Oxley said Sunday night. "We'd been together a long time. He was my everything."

Several friends in Scranton Sunday night were so despondent over the news of his passing they said they couldn't speak about Mr. Miller.

Surviving are Mr. Miller's three sons, actor Jason Patric and Joshua Miller of Los Angeles and Jordan Miller of New York, N.Y., and daughter Jennifer Miller, also of Los Angeles. His former wives, Linda Gleason and Ruth Josem, also survive.

The Albert P. O'Donnell Funeral Home, Dunmore, is handling funeral arrangements.