Lew Palter, who played businessman Isidor Straus in James Cameron’s 1997 epic “Titanic,” has died. He was 94 years old. 

Along with his acting career, which included roles on “Hill Street Blues” and “The Flying Nun” and extensive theater work, Palter was a longtime acting teacher at CalArts in Santa Clarita, California. 

“It is with great sadness that I share the news that longtime School of Theater faculty Lew Palter has passed away,” Travis Preston, the dean of CalArts’ School of Theater, said in a statement to Fox News Digital.

“Lew retired from CalArts in 2013, having served our community since 1971 as an acting teacher, director, and mentor. Lew loved the craft of acting, and taught his students to do the same. He fostered deep curiosity, care, intellect, and humor in every scene, play, and class. He had the utmost respect of his students, and encouraged all to find truth in their work and lives.”

Preston added, “His career on the stage and screen was formidable, and he was a lifelong student of the theater. Alongside his many colleagues and collaborators, I always found him to be straightforward, thoughtful, and sincere. His legacy is carried forth in the many careers, lives, and stories he touched, and our collective CalArts thoughts are with his family, friends, and theater community who loved him so.”


A split of Lew Palter's head shot and him as doomed Titanic passenger Isidor Straus

Lew Palter played Isidor Straus in 1997’s “Titanic.”  (Courtesy of CalArts/Paramount Pictures/”Titanic”)

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Palter’s daughter, Catherine, confirmed he died on May 21 of lung cancer at his home in Los Angeles.

The late star taught famous students like Ed Harris, Don Cheadle and Cecily Strong over the years, the outlet reported. 

In Strong’s tribute to Palter, she called him a “great teacher” who “knew how to live life well.” She also thanked Palter “because for so many years I got to brag that my teacher was the old guy in Titanic that chose to stay in bed.”

“Lew knew how to live life well. How to teach students to be not only better actors but better people. He got to a beautiful 94,” Strong wrote, in part.


Palter’s portrayal of the real-life former Macy’s co-owner, though a small role, gave the movie one of its more poignant moments as Straus cradled his wife in bed while they prepared to go down with the ship.

Straus and his wife, Ida, were both killed when the “unsinkable” ship sank in April 1912 in the cold waters of the Atlantic.

A deleted scene from the film showed Palter as Straus begging his wife to get into a lifeboat. She answered in the movie and according to history: “We’ve been together for 40 years, and where you go, I go. Don’t argue with me, Isidor. You know it does no good.”

Straus and his wife were two of the wealthiest passengers on Titanic. The 67-year-old refused to get into a lifeboat while there were still women, children and younger men on the sinking ship, and his wife refused to leave him. 

Straus was also reportedly an ancestor of Wendy Rush, the widow of OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, who was one of five killed when their submersible imploded on June 18 while descending the Atlantic to view the Titanic wreck. Wendy Rush is the great-great-granddaughter of the Strauses, the New York Times reported, citing archival records.


Isidor and Ida Straus

Isidor and Ida Straus died together when the Titanic sank in 1912. (Getty)

Born Leon Louis Palter on Nov. 3, 1928, Palter graduated from Tufts University before earning his master’s degree from Alfred University. He went on to get his Ph.D. in theater from Northwestern University, per THR. In between earning his various degrees, he enlisted and served in the Army before starting a stage career.

Palter went on to act in numerous TV shows, including “Run for Your Life,” “The Brady Bunch” and “L.A. Law,” among others. He joined CalArts in the early ’70s and continued to appear on-screen in acting roles.

“As a teacher, he seemed to have truly changed people’s lives,” his daughter told the outlet.


The outlet reported that in addition to his daughter, Palter is survived by his grandchildren: Sam, Tessa and Miranda.

Fox News Digital’s Tracy Wright contributed to this report.


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