“He was one of the most authentic human beings I’ve ever met,” Vincent D’Onofrio said on the set of Full Metal Jacket.
As an actor best known for his collaborations with Stanley Kubrick as a personal assistant, he passed away at 74.
Vitali died Friday in Los Angeles; his family told the Associated Press.
A range of movies show Vitali’s vision and contributions, including The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut, industry insiders say. In Tony Zierra’s documentary Filmworker, he explored how British-born Vitali came to work for Stanley Kubrick and how the assistant helped cast and train actors, including finding (and babysitting, per Rolling Stone) Danny Lloyd at the age of six. In The Shining from the 1980s, he played Danny Torrance.
Vitali also convinced the late Dr. Lee Ermey, then an off-screen military advisor, to play the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, and he even appeared in the iconic cult scene in Eyes Wide Shut.
Several colleagues, including Vincent D’Onofrio and Matthew Modine, stars of Full Metal Jacket, have acknowledged Vitali’s role on social media and screen.
“He was one of the most authentic human beings I’ve ever met,” tweeted D’Onofrio. “I was 24 yrs old when I met him. He taught me that you can not go through life only self-serving. That you must give to others always. He taught me the best practical ways to prep for work. And he was a sweet, sweet man.”
“There are people we meet who have a profound impact upon our lives. Leon Vitali was one such person in mine,” said Modine. “An artist in every aspect of his life. A loving father & friend to so many. A kind, generous & forgiving nature. He exemplified & personified grace.”
The first collaboration between Vitali and Kubrick was as an actor in the 1975 movie Barry Lyndon.
As Lord Bullingdon, Ryan O’Neal’s title character’s stepson, Vitali was getting to know the director when he asked him for a conversation. Previously, Vitali told Rolling Stone he thought he got dismissed, but the director praised him as “extremely focused.” The praise led to a career-long relationship. (Kubrick passed away in March 1999 at the age of 70 years old)
“I made one truly, truly radical change in my life, and that was when I said, ‘I’m more interested in that than I was in acting,” he told In 2017. “That’s the biggest conscious decision I’ve ever made. There were some sacrifices, but there were gains too.”