Willie Garson, the actor best known for his role as Carrie Bradshaw’s best male friend on the hit HBO series “Sex and the City,” died on Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 57.
His death was announced on Instagram by his son, Nathen. His sister-in-law, Nina Tassler, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
On “Sex and the City,” which centered on the close-knit friendship of four women as they powered through the ever-turbulent dating scene of New York City in the 1990s, Mr. Garson played Stanford Blatch, a gay talent agent and the dependable, witty and always well-dressed confidant of Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker.
Much like the four lead characters (some fans called him “the fifth lady”), Stanford was put through the dating ringer. In one episode, he unknowingly visited an “underwear only” bar to meet a man he had met online. In another, he waited on Fifth Avenue for a man who answered his personal ad. When the man arrived, he took one look at Stanford, said, “Sorry, it’s not going to happen,” and left.
Stanford finally found a partner, played by Mario Cantone, in the “Sex and the City” feature-film sequels, released in 2008 and 2010. Mr. Cantone said on Twitter that he was “devastated and just overwhelmed with sadness” by the death of Mr. Garson, whom he called “a gift from the gods.”
Stanford was first seen in the second episode of “Sex and the City,” in 1998. He was one of the few openly gay characters on TV at the time.
“Most of the pressure I felt was to not be offensive,” Mr. Garson, who was not gay, told The Huffington Post. “I didn’t want to offend the community at all, and that was a really big concern of mine. To the point where I didn’t even have HBO for the first three years, because I didn’t want to see it, because I was so terrified of being offensive.
“But the gay community really rose up, and said ‘We know people like this, this is real.’ And so that made me feel great, and I could start watching the show.”
He said in another interview: “I always felt that there’s nothing worse than straight actors playing gay characters in television and then doing cartwheels to tell people that they’re straight all the time — as if they were gay, that’d be a bad thing. So I always handled this the same way. I say, when I was on ‘NYPD Blue,’ no one ever asked me if I was a murderer.”
Stanford was not originally supposed to be seen regularly on “Sex and the City.” But because of positive audience feedback, he became the only recurring character to appear in all six seasons (he was in 27 episodes altogether) and both feature films.
Mr. Garson was slated to reprise his role in the coming “Sex and the City” reboot, “And Just Like That …” That show is still in the shooting phase, and it is unclear if he will appear in any of its scenes.
Mr. Garson also drew attention for his role on the USA Network crime series “White Collar” (2009-14) as the con man Mozzie.
He worked often in films by the Farrelly brothers, including “Kingpin” (1996), “There’s Something About Mary” (1998) and “Fever Pitch” (2005). In a 2016 interview with Fast Company, Bobby Farrelly said Mr. Garson had become a part of their continuing ensemble cast in part because of his “great look.”
“He was a good actor, and there was just something about him,” Mr. Farrelly said. “He was just one of those guys. When he comes in and reads, you’re like, ‘That guy, we gotta put him somewhere.’ A look is so much in acting — it’s about 92 percent of the battle in my opinion — and Willie Garson’s got that.”
Oddly, Mr. Garson played Lee Harvey Oswald three times, in the film “Ruby” (1992) and on the TV shows “Quantum Leap” and “MADtv.”
He was born William Garson Paszamant on Feb. 20, 1964, to Muriel (Flanagan) and Donald Paszamant, and grew up in Highland Park, N.J. At 13, he started training at the Actors Institute in New York. He graduated in 1985 from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he majored in psychology and theater.
After graduation, he landed guest roles on several television shows, including “Family Ties,” “Cheers” and “L.A. Law.” His first film was the 1989 comedy “Troop Beverly Hills.”
He went on to appear on “The X-Files,” “Boy Meets World,” “Friends” and other series. Overall, he acted in more than 300 television episodes and more than 70 films.
In addition to his son, he is survived by a brother, John Paszamant, and a sister, Lisa Clark.
Mr. Garson served on the advisory board of You Gotta Believe, an organization that helps find permanent families for young people. He became a parent in 2010 when he adopted his son, who was 7 at the time.
“As a narcissist actor, and I was the definition, I immediately became responsible for taking care of someone else,” Mr. Garson said in an interview shared on Medium last year. “It is a really special feeling to say that. It is such an important job and makes you grow in so many different ways.”