Passing it On: Remembering James Rebhorn

James Rebhorn, a member of the Wittenberg University class of 1970, passed away surrounded by family and loved ones on Friday, March 21 after a battle with melanoma that lasted longer than two decades. He was 65 years old.

In a video he shot for Wittenberg back in 2009, Rebhorn admits that he was initially drawn to the university for its outstanding reputation within the Lutheran academic community. His initial intent upon arriving in Springfield was to study his way into the Lutheran ministry. However it was at Wittenberg that the young Rebhorn stumbled upon his passion for the theatre arts, a stumbling that he attribute to the university’s nurturing environment that implores students to experiment and dabble in all facets of life, not necessarily just those in the classroom. He graduated with a double major in political science and theatre. While on campus, he was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.

It’s a good thing he found his thespian leanings too, for the actor went on to find exceptional success in television, stage acting, and the big screen, despite never quite becoming a household name.  Whether the instillation of his passion can be pinned solely to Wittenberg or not, the entertainment industry certainly lucked out that Rebhorn didn’t follow his initial dream of becoming a Lutheran minister.

After graduating, James went on to Columbia University, where acted his way to a Master of Fine Arts degree. From there, it wasn’t long until Rebhorn was able to find success, moving from stage to the silver screen with impressive quickness. Throughout the 90’s he was cast in wildly popular productions such as “Scent of a Woman,” “Independence Day,” “My Cousin Vinny,” “Carlito’s Way,” “Meet the Parents,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” and “Blank Check.”

Most recently, Rebhorn was acknowledged for his work on the smashing Showtime political drama “Homeland” as well as undertaking a recurring role on USA network’s “White Collar.” He liked to joke that all his characters enjoyed wearing suits, as he was most often casted as politicians or big-wig criminals.

The Internet Movie Database lists 125 credits for the Tiger graduate. Even with the success he found in screen acting, Rebhorn never strayed too far from his first artistic love of the stage, performing every year in stage productions, a number of which were Broadway productions.

Rebhorn’s death came as no surprise to him. Beginning with the first diagnosis of melanoma in 1992, the fight was one that was undertaken quietly and without media hype. Since his death, his self-penned obituary has circled the internet. In it, the actor paints himself a loving family man, touting the joy that was given to him by his wife and daughters and shedding light on the values that drove his life of success. Rebhorn’s legacy of passing it on is one that all current Wittenberg students can aspire to.

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