Stephen Furst, whose early role as the hapless, lovable fraternity pledge Flounder in the hit 1978 comedy “National Lampoon’s Animal House” earned him lasting recognition, died early Friday at his home in Moorpark, Calif. He was 63.
The cause was probably congestive heart failure brought on by complications of diabetes, his son Nathan said.
The chubby naïf Kent Dorfman, nicknamed Flounder, was one of his earliest professional roles, one that he remained proud of throughout his career, and returned to for the short-lived television series “Delta House.”
The movie, set in the early 1960s, is about an unruly fraternity that the college administration wants to shut down. In her review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin said, “Stephen Furst does some very successful scene-stealing as the house blimp.”
The character of Flounder — whose appearance is so pitiful that the older members of Delta Tau Chi pelt a picture of him with beer cans when he is suggested as a pledge — is one of the film’s most reliable sources of comic relief. Cluelessly upbeat and charmingly idiotic, he’s taken under the wing of John Belushi’s character, Bluto Blutarsky, who alternately torments and comforts him.
“In a way, he built a whole career from that role, because many of the characters he played were different versions of the same energy that character had,” Nathan Furst said.
Though Flounder would remain his most famous part, Mr. Furst remained active in Hollywood throughout his life, with regular roles on the 1980s hospital dramedy “St. Elsewhere” as Dr. Elliot Axelrod and in the 1990s science-fiction series “Babylon 5” as Vir Cotto, a nobleman who becomes emperor of the Centauri Republic.
He appeared in various other television series and movies, and did some voice acting, most notably on the television series “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.”
After the family released the news of his death on Saturday, his peers in Hollywood remembered him fondly on social media. “As an awkward round kid, Flounder was the Delta I most identified with in ‘Animal House,’ my favorite comedy,” the director Kevin Smith wrote in one such post.
Stephen Nelson Feuerstein was born on May 8, 1954, in Norfolk, Va. He was interested in acting from an early age, and was already playing roles in local productions by the time he was in high school, including the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz.”
He studied drama at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he met his future wife, Lorraine, also a drama major. The couple, who worked on a production of the play “Equus” together, were married in 1976 and moved to Los Angeles soon afterward. After about six months of auditions, Mr. Furst landed the role in “Animal House.”
Mr. Furst directed several episodes of “Babylon 5,” and later began to direct television movies. He also produced films for television, including some that he worked on with his younger son, Griffith.
He first learned of his diabetes when he was 17 — complications of the disease had killed his father — but did not face the condition directly until a foot infection in the mid-1990s led doctors to tell him that he might need to have his leg amputated.
“Like most severely overweight people, I had to hit a rock-hard bottom before I’d take responsibility for the consequences of neglecting my own health,” he said in an interview with USA Today several years later. The wake-up call led him to a significant weight loss. He began to take a leading role in educating others about the disease.
Besides his sons and his wife, he is survived by a sister, Susan Katz, and two grandchildren.