Oak Lawn actor, artist dies at 81

By Laura Bollin Notices
staff reporter

Oak Lawn resident Richard J. Forkin had many starring roles in his life - on the big screen, as an extra in films like "A League of Their Own" and "Only the Lonely," and as an artist in a gallery at the Oak Lawn Public Library.

Mr. Forkin died Dec. 7. He was 81.

Richard Forkin's nephew, also named Richard Forkin, said Mr. Forkin began his acting career when he was 70 years old.

"He was always trying something new, and he was never afraid to try anything," Forkin said. "He tried acting as an extra and really got into it. He fell in love with it. His only regret was that he didn't start when he was younger."

Mr. Forkin took acting classes at The Second City in Chicago and was a member of the Screen Actors Guild. He acted in movies and was in commercials.

"He was the butler for the owner of the baseball team in "A League of Their Own," Forkin said. "He's been in more than 50 films. He got to meet Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, John Candy and Maureen O'Hara. She was a famous actress from back in the day, and was a sex symbol in his era."

He was also an extra in "Home Alone" and its sequel, a lawyer in "Miracle on 34th Street," a prison inmate in "The Untouchables," and an extra in the restaurant scene in "Road to Perdition."

Mr. Forkin had small speaking roles in several short films, like "The Last Day," in which he played an ailing father who was reconnecting with his daughter; and "The Arab," where he played Catholic priest Father Giovanni, according to the International Movie Database,

He was also involved in music, and took guitar, piano, and singing lessons at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills.

"When he got his radiation treatments at (Hines Veterans Administration) Hospital, he would sing old Irish songs, and he got a standing ovation from the staff there," Forkin said.

He was also a beloved volunteer at Hines, where patients knew him as "the candy man," Forkin said.

"He volunteered three days a week, and just donated his time," Forkin said. "He helped people get to their appointments and pushed their wheelchairs or gave people directions in the halls. He was called the candy man, because he would pass out candy to people while he was there."

Mr. Forkin's niece, Sharon Bidochka, remembered her uncle as someone who was funny one minute and serious the next.

"He was a smart, intelligent guy," Bidochka said. "He was talented in everything he did. He traveled the world. I wish I could do half of the things in my lifetime that he did."

Mr. Forkin grew up in Chicago and moved to Oak Lawn 50 years ago to take care of his mother. Before his acting days, Mr. Forkin served in the Army during WWII. He was an avid traveler, visiting France and Germany and a sailor who once owned a boat that he kept at a harbor in downtown Chicago. He was also a businessman. In the 1970s, he owned two now-shuttered bars on Chicago's South Side, one called Briar Patch and the other named The Sting.

"He owned a bar at a time when people would dress up in suits and ties, just to go to the neighborhood bar - I've seen pictures of that," Forkin said.

Mr. Forkin never married and did not have children of his own, so he was especially close with his nieces and nephews and their children, Forkin said.

"To me and my kids, he was more like a dad to me and a grandfather to my kids," Forkin said. "He was always supportive of us. He was a golfer and a tennis player, and he taught both of my daughters, Tracey and Kelsey, how to play tennis. Now, they are going to college on tennis scholarships. That's all due to him."

Mr. Forkin was an oil painter, and had some of his work featured in an art show at the Oak Lawn Public Library, said library public relations and development officer Erin Foley.

"For our summer art show in June, he did a painting that was a portrait of Paul Newman, and another painting that was of some pottery and moccasins," Foley said. "The facial features on the painting were incredible. The man is wearing a tie and suit, and has a top hat on. The eyes were just wonderful in the picture. He was very talented."

Mr. Forkin was also a fixture at the Bookworm Café on the first floor of the library, where he would come in every day and order a cup of black coffee, said co-owner Andy Vaitkus.

"He owned a bar back in the day, and he would always tell stories about that," Vaitkus said. "We would play jokes on each other. He would walk in, and I'd shut all the lights off and tell him we were closed. He came in here every day."

Forkin remembers his uncle as being fearless.

"He told us if you wanted to do something, just go do it," Forkin said. "Don't think about it, just go and do it and give it your best, and it'll work out for you."