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Saturday, August 17, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Joe Seneca, Singer, Composer, Actor

AP

NEW YORK - Joe Seneca, who turned his work as a song-and-dance performer into an illustrious acting career in movies, has died.

He died Thursday morning from an asthma attack, said Dulcina Eisen, his agent. She said he had never revealed his age, but she estimated he was in his late 70s.

Mr. Seneca most recently was seen as the Rev. Street in the movie "A Time to Kill," the courtroom thriller from the John Grisham novel. His first big film was "The Verdict," in which he appeared opposite Paul Newman as an inept medical expert in a malpractice trial.

Mr. Seneca was born in Cleveland. He and his sister were raised by an aunt there, said Jackie Parton, whose husband, Eddie Parton, formed a song-and-dance group with Mr. Seneca and another friend after they graduated from high school.

They called their group the Three Riffs and sang together for 20 years. In the early 1960s, Mr. Seneca wrote the song "Break It to Me Gently" with Diane Lampert. He also wrote "Talk to Me."

In the early 1970s, Mr. Seneca appeared on Broadway with James Earl Jones in "Of Mice and Men." He also appeared in "Little Foxes" with Elizabeth Taylor and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," for which he learned to play the trombone.

He also appeared in "Silverado," "Crossroads" and "Mississippi Masala."

Television movies he appeared in include: "The Vernon Johns Story" opposite James Earl Jones, "A Gathering of Old Men," "The House of Dries Drear" and "Wilma."

He is survived by his wife, Betty.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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