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Veteran character actor Ed Lauter, whose long, angular face and stern bearing made him an instantly recognizable figure in scores of movies and TV shows during a career that stretched across five decades, died Wednesday. He was 74. Lauter died of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer most commonly caused by asbestos exposure, said his publicist, Edward Lozzi. Whether he was an irascible authority figure, a brutal thug or a conniving con man, Lauter's presence made him all but impossible to miss in any film he was in.