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John Heard, the Frazzled Father in ‘Home Alone,’ Dies at 71

John Heard, an actor who played pained characters in dramas but became known for his role as the father who forgot his youngest son on a family trip to Paris in “Home Alone,” died Friday in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 71.

The cause of death remained under investigation, said the Santa Clara County Office of the Medical Examiner-Coroner in San Jose, Calif., which confirmed the death on Saturday.

Mr. Heard recently had surgery for back pain at Stanford University Medical Center and was recovering at a nearby hotel where a housekeeper found his body, his former wife, Sharon Heard, said in an interview on Saturday.

Mr. Heard started his career playing serious roles in the theater and was praised for his wrenching performance in the 1981 film “Cutter’s Way.”

He gained recognition mainly for lighter roles in films of the 1980s and 1990s, such as “Home Alone,” in which he played Macaulay Culkin’s father, and before that, “Big.”

With his squinting blue eyes and clean-shaven good looks, Mr. Heard embodied the stereotype of the 1980s businessman. He brought to the roles a mixture of flustered charm and self-assurance.

John Matthew Heard Jr. was born March 7, 1946, in Washington and briefly pursued a master’s degree in theater at Catholic University of America before leaving to build a professional acting career. His early years were spent in Off Broadway productions.

He was interviewed in The New York Times in 1977 after completing his first film, “Between the Lines.” He was then working onstage as an anxious husband in a production of August Strindberg’s “Creditors.”

He struck a note of searching self-deprecation. “I think this interview is a little premature,” he said, adding, “I don’t know, maybe after this is over, I’ll go back to Washington and be a plumber’s helper again.”

Instead, he went on to star in art house films that had cult appeal like “Cutter’s Way,” which also starred Jeff Bridges. Mr. Heard played a disabled and emotionally tortured Vietnam veteran.

In the 1988 movie “Big,” Mr. Heard played an executive who mocks the little boy in a man’s body played by Tom Hanks, only to watch him rise up the corporate ladder and win over his girlfriend.

In “Home Alone,” a 1990 John Hughes movie that The Times said might be the “first Christmas black comedy for children,” Mr. Heard’s character, Peter McCallister, panics as he realizes he has forgotten his son Kevin in the rush to get to the airport for a family trip to France. Kevin awakes to an empty house, announces, “I made my family disappear!” and goes on to fend off two bumbling burglars, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.

Mr. Heard also appeared in the sequel “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” (1992).

The actress who played the girlfriend in “Big,” Elizabeth Perkins, described Mr. Heard on Twitter as “the perfect foil, perfectly sly & a perfect gentleman.”

He had roles in “Beaches” (1988), “Gladiator” (1992) and “The Pelican Brief” (1993). Mr. Heard also appeared on television shows, including “Miami Vice,” “NCIS: Los Angeles” and “The Sopranos,” for which he was nominated in 1999 for an Emmy Award for his guest appearance as a corrupt police detective.

Ms. Heard, who was married to Mr. Heard from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, said in an interview on Saturday: “He’d never compromise. He’d get scripts every day, but he didn’t care about money. He didn’t care about the Hollywood scene at all.”

She said “Cutter’s Way” was “his pride and joy,” and he “absolutely” resented being identified instead with the suburban father from the “Home Alone” movies.

They had two children. Mr. Heard had a son, John M. Heard III, from a previous relationship with the actress Melissa Leo.

Beginning in the 1990s, he made headlines over a protracted custody battle with Ms. Leo over their son. He also had two brief marriages, to Margot Kidder and to Lana Pritchard.

In addition to his son John, Mr. Heard is survived by a sister, Cordis Heard, and his daughter Annika from his marriage to Ms. Heard. Their son, Max, died in 2016.

“John and Max were both creative, tormented, beautiful geniuses,” Ms. Heard said. “These people felt things differently and they made the world magical.”

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