Josip Elic, remembered for his performance as the confused, constantly tired asylum inmate Bancini who carries Jack Nicholson’s rebellious, basketball-dunking McMurphy on his shoulders in 1975’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, died Monday at a rehabilitation facility in New Jersey. He was 98.
His death was announced by his friend, manager Matt Beckoff, in a Facebook post. Elic had been in failing health since suffering a fall at his New York residence several years ago; he lived with friend and caretaker, the actress Lee Meredith, and her husband at their home in River Edge, New Jersey, before transferring to a nearby assisted-living residence, according to a 2018 North Record newspaper profile.
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After early TV roles in 1950s series such as Kraft Theatre, The Phil Silvers Show, Peter Gunn and The Asphalt Jungle, Elic made appearances in two Twilight Zone episodes (1961’s “The Obsolete Man” and, a year later, “One More Pallbearer”). Soon came roles in the 1964 camp classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a 1966 TV adaptation of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, and, in 1967, Mel Brooks’ The Producers. In the latter, he was featured in a memorable scene as the violinist who gets a bottle of champagne dumped down his pants by Zero Mostel.
He’ll best be remembered for his role as Cuckoo‘s befuddled Bancini, a near-catatonic patient who repeatedly mutters an exhausted “I”m tired,” only once rising in anger during a group therapy session shouting “I’m tired! And it’s a lot of baloney!” His major moment, though, was an improvised basketball court scene in which Nicholson’s McMurphy climbs atop the towering Bancini’s shoulders to teach the other asylum inmates how to dunk a basketball – all under the watchful, scornful eye of Louise Fletcher’s sadistic Nurse Ratched.
In the North Jersey Record interview last year, Elic and Meredith spoke of their long friendship and Elic’s recent health problems.
“He was living in New York all by himself,” Meredith said. “He had these steep stairs he was going up and down. His doctors said, ‘You can’t be alone any more.’ So Joe came here, and things worked out pretty well. We’re kind of his family now.”
Said Elic, “They were wonderful to me. Took care of me right and left. Changed my sheets, wouldn’t let me go into the kitchen to wash my cup or anything.”
His friend and caretaker survives him, as does a sister.