To most of the world, Miguel Ferrer was a character actor best known for "NCIS: Los Angeles," "Crossing Jordan" or uptight FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield on ABC's "Twin Peaks."
But around here Miguel Ferrer – who died of cancer Thursday at age 61 -- was known as Rosemary Clooney's son and George Clooney's cousin.
To me, he was the guy who urged his fun-loving cousin George to pursue acting. And the drum-playing son who toured the U.S. and Europe with his mother Rosemary and singer Bing Crosby before Bing's death in 1977.
Without Miguel and Uncle Jose Ferrer, who knows what Clooney would be doing today? Clooney was drifting, not applying himself at Northern Kentucky University, when his cousin and uncle came to Lexington to shoot a movie. George was hired as an extra.
What movie? I don't know, it was so bad that it was never released. George loved it. He was hooked. He invited the entire cast and crew to the Clooney home in August for Easter dinner.
At Miguel's urging – and against his father Nick's wishes -- George packed up his stuff in 1982 and drove to Aunt Rosemary's house in California to give show business a try. George and Miguel sometimes would go to the same movie auditions, Clooney told me in 1990 during an ABC event for George's short-lived "Baby Talk" sitcom.
"We’ve done seven or eight plays together. No film or TV," Clooney said.
When Clooney finally made it big 14 years later on "ER," his cousin had a guest starring role as a patient in the first episode.
While Clooney worked his way to stardom on popular sitcoms such as "The Facts Of Life" and "Roseanne," Ferrer strung together movie ("RoboCop," "Revenge") and TV guest roles on "CHiPs," "Cagney & Lacey," "Hill Street Blues" and "Miami Vice" before "Twin Peaks." His quirky Agent Rosenfield led to series regular roles on Al Franken's "LateLine," "Crossing Jordan," "The Protector" and "NCIS: Los Angeles."
In the past year, as cancer affected his voice, "NCIS: Los Angeles" writers incorporated the illness into his character, NCIS Assistant Director Owen Granger. People magazine said he was given the option of leaving "NCIS: Los Angeles" as his cancer worsened last year, but he wanted to keep working.
My favorite interview with Miguel was in 2002, a couple of months after his mother died. We had spoken briefly the day of Rosemary's funeral, when the family gathered in Augusta, and I told him I'd catch him in a few weeks at the TV critics' press tour in Los Angeles to talk about his mom.
And what stories he told me!
Ferrer recalled growing up in a Beverly Hills home filled with musical guests – Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Ira Gershwin, to name a few. He took drum lessons, inspired by little Ricky Ricardo on "I Love Lucy" and the Beatles' Ringo Starr. He still played drums in a rock band called the Jenerators with longtime friend Billy Mumy, the "Lost in Space" actor.
When Rosemary made her comeback in the 1970s from drugs and a nervous breakdown, 18-year-old Miguel was her drummer, road pal and sometime conductor. Three years later, he was touring with Crosby, his mom, and her longtime companion, Dante DiPaolo.
"We played the London Palladium twice, Broadway, all over the United States and the world….It was amazing. We'd finish a gig, have a late dinner and a couple of drinks, and watch TV to 3-4 a.m. I don't know anybody who had that kind of experience with their parents," he told me.
"There was not a night I didn't want to pinch myself and say, "Look what I'm doing!' Some nights she'd come off the stage and I'd say, "You really sang great tonight.' And she would compliment me. We were great friends and colleagues. It was amazing.”
After Crosby died in 1977, at age 74, Mumy encouraged Ferrer to pursue acting.
“I found the best acting school I could, and started studying. I took a big pay cut for a while — and was broke — but it kind of worked out."
Ferrer loved telling his mother's favorite story from his childhood, when actress Marilyn Monroe held him as an infant in 1955.
"To hear my mother tell it, I started to cry instantly until my eyes opened, and I looked at that face. And I stopped crying, and just stared at her wide-eyed. And I'm told she spent the whole party upstairs with me."
His mother died of cancer at age 74 in 2002. She insisted that doctors release her from the hospital so she could die at home surrounded by family.
Ferrer also died of cancer at home surrounded by family.
"NCIS: Los Angeles" producer R. Scott Gemmill told People Thursday:
"Miguel was a man of tremendous talent who had a powerful dramatic presence on screen, a wicked sense of humor, and a huge heart. Our thoughts go out to his wife Lori, his sons, and his entire family. He will be greatly missed."
Ferrer left his fans one final gift: He has reprised his Albert Rosenfield character for the Showtime revival of "Twin Peaks" debuting May 21.