Actors We Lost in 2019

31 Dec

I regularly keep a running tally of celebrity deaths during the year and what struck me about 2019 was the sheer number of actors I was familiar with who died, more, I believe, than any other year I’ve been keeping tab. There were 83. And this number was followed by a large number of actors from other countries whom I was unfamiliar with who died during the year, including many English ones (e.g., Nicky Henson). I’m astounded by the longevity of so many of these performers. I decided to pay tribute to the 44 actors on the list that I’m most familiar with, listed here in descending order by their age when they died, oldest first, with remarks on what I’ve seen them in and how I remember them. I realize that many of these actors are more famous for their work in recent popular TV series, but that’s not how I know them, so forgive me if I don’t cite those series.

Doris Day (97)

One of the biggest Hollywood movie stars in the 1950s and ’60s. I especially like her comedies with Rock Hudson, PILLOW TALK (1959) and LOVER COME BACK (1962) and her one musical drama with Frank Sinatra, YOUNG AT HEART (1954).

Valentina Cortese (96)

A colorful Italian actress who had great international success in Hollywood and throughout Europe for four decades after the war. I’ve seen her in several films, but I remember her most from BLACK MAGIC (1949), THIEVES’ HIGHWAY (1949), THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954), BARABBAS (1962), Robert Aldrich’s THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE (1968) and Francois Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT (1973).

Machiko Kyo (95)

A great Japanese actress whom I recall from Akira Kurosawa’s groundbreaking international hit RASHOMON (1950), Teinosuke Kinugasa’s GATE OF HELL (1953), Kenji Mizoguchi’s PRINCESS YANG KWEI FEI (1955), and her one Hollywood film, TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON (1956), in which she played opposite Marlon Brando and Glenn Ford. She also did films for Yasujiro Ozu and Kon Ichikawa, among many other great directors.

Peggy Stewart (95)

My favorite B-western leading lady, she had a long career in movies and TV, lasting from 1937 to 2014 for a total of 77 years in the business! I particularly like STAGECOACH TO DENVER, one of 12 films she made in 1946, and her stint in a Deanna Durbin musical, THAT CERTAIN AGE (1938). Her last film was THAT’S MY BOY (2012) with Adam Sandler.

Jan Merlin (94)

He was a go-to villain in westerns and crime shows for decades, known for his trademark grin. I’ve seen him in episodes of “Dragnet” and “Perry Mason” and many western shows, as well as movie westerns like A DAY OF FURY (1956), COLE YOUNGER, GUNFIGHTER (1958), HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (1960) and GUNFIGHT AT COMANCHE CREEK (1963).

Sylvia Miles (94)

Who can forget her as the tarty Park Avenue wife who turns the tables on hustler Joe Buck (Jon Voight) in MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969)? I’ve also seen her in FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975), 92 IN THE SHADE (1975), and WALL STREET (1987).

Virginia Leith (94)

An interesting actress with striking features who was a leading lady in a few 1950s movies but is probably best known as the–literal–talking head in THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE (1962). I liked her as a Bohemian artist in Greenwich Village in BLACK WIDOW (1954).

Richard Erdman (93)

Veteran all-purpose character actor who was active from 1944 to 2017—73 years! I first saw him in Billy Wilder’s STALAG 17 (1953) and then caught him in numerous old movies on TV over the years, with his role as Dick Powell’s comic sidekick in CRY DANGER (1950) being a particular favorite. He was in six episodes of “Perry Mason.”

 Nancy Gates (93)

She was an RKO contract player while still a teen and made dozens of movies in the 1940s and ’50s, closing out her film career with the excellent 1960 western, COMANCHE STATION, while continuing to act in TV shows till 1969. I’ve seen her in 17 movies, including SUDDENLY (1954), opposite Frank Sinatra; the futuristic sci-fi adventure, WORLD WITHOUT END (1956); and the rugged western THE BRASS LEGEND (1956).  She was in three episodes of “Perry Mason.”

Morgan Woodward (93)

Another go-to bad guy in movies and TV for four decades. I associate him mostly with drive-in redneck thrillers of the 1970s (A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS, MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS), but remember him most as the shades-wearing Boss Godfrey who torments chain-gang inmate Paul Newman in COOL HAND LUKE (1967). He was in two episodes of the original “Star Trek.”

Julie Adams (92)

A beautiful leading lady at Universal Pictures in the 1950s in such favorites as BEND OF THE RIVER (1952), THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO (1953), WINGS OF THE HAWK (1953), CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and FOUR GIRLS IN TOWN (1957), she remained active in films and television well into the 2000s. She was in four “Perry Mason” episodes.

David Hedison (92)

I first saw him in THE LOST WORLD (1960) and then enjoyed him as Captain Crane, the co-lead of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” on TV. He also starred in the sci-fi favorite THE FLY (1958) and played CIA agent Felix Leiter in two James Bond movies, LIVE AND LET DIE  (1973) and LICENCE TO KILL (1989), opposite two different actors as Bond. He had an active career in film and television for 50 years. He was in an episode of “Perry Mason.” I once saw him at a Chiller Theatre convention laughing it up at an autograph table with John Phillip Law.

Dick Miller (90)

The subject of a 2014 documentary, THAT GUY DICK MILLER, Miller was a member of Roger Corman’s stock company back in the 1950s and ‘60s, turning up as the lead in one film (A BUCKET OF BLOOD) and supporting roles in dozens more and then showing up in the films of Corman’s numerous protégés, including Joe Dante, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Allan Arkush, Jonathan Kaplan, Paul Bartel, Steve Carver, and Jim Wynorski. He was from the Bronx. He had a 60-year career in film and TV.

Robert Evans (89)

The Paramount studio head who gave us LOVE STORY (1970), THE GODFATHER (1972) and CHINATOWN (1974), and the subject of the 2002 documentary, THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE, Evans began as an actor, appearing as a Spanish bullfighter in THE SUN ALSO RISES (1957), a crazed gunman in THE FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST (1958), and even playing former MGM studio head Irving Thalberg in THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES (1957), before realizing his talents were more suited to the executive suite.

Tadao Takashima (88)

Japanese actor who worked at Toho Pictures and was best known for such kaiju classics as KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965), and SON OF GODZILLA (1967).

Rip Torn (88)

Venerable character actor with a 60-year career in movies and TV. I’m a big fan of his performances in THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER (1977), where he plays an FBI agent at odds with Hoover, and EXTREME PREJUDICE (1987), as Nick Nolte’s partner in the Texas Rangers. He plays Louis XV in Sofia Coppola’s MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006). Probably best known for his TV work on “The Larry Sanders Show” (1992-98). Famously attacked Norman Mailer with a hammer on camera in Mailer’s cinema verite political fantasy, MAIDSTONE (1968), when he couldn’t get out of character.

Danny Aiello (86)

A blue-collar guy from New York, he got into acting late and cornered the market in certain kinds of working-class roles. Famous for MOONSTRUCK (1987), he’s best known to me for playing corrupt cops in FORT APACHE, THE BRONX (1981) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984), Mia Farrow’s abusive husband in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, and Sal, the beleaguered Brooklyn pizzeria owner, in Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING (1989).

Tim Conway (85)

A comic actor on TV for many decades, he’s best known for his appearances on “The Carol Burnett Show” (1975-78), although I will always cherish his comic turn as Ensign Parker on “McHale’s Navy” (1962-66).

Chelo Alonso (85)

A fiery Cuban dancer-actress who lit up the screen in 19 Italian historical adventures and westerns throughout the 1960s. She made a great impression in two Steve Reeves movies, GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS and MORGAN THE PIRATE and one Italian western with fellow Cuban expatriate Tomas Milian, RUN, MAN, RUN (1968).

Diahann Carroll (84)

She made a handful of movies in the 1950s and ’60s, including CARMEN JONES (1953), PORGY AND BESS (1959) and PARIS BLUES (1961), before becoming a hit on TV in various musical specials and the sitcom, “Julia” (1968-1971), the first series about a black female protagonist who was not a maid. She starred in CLAUDINE (1974) as a single mother trying to nurture a romance without endangering her welfare status. Later she appeared as Dominique Devereaux in the nighttime soaps, “Dynasty” and “The Colbys.”

Seymour Cassel (84)

Noted character actor in films and TV in a 57-year career. He was a favorite of director John Cassavetes and starred for him in MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (1971) and later a favorite of director Wes Anderson. I first saw Cassel as a randy delinquent who gets roughed up by Clint Eastwood in COOGAN’S BLUFF (1968) and later in Sam Peckinpah’s CONVOY (1978) and Warren Beatty’s DICK TRACY (1990), among others.

Chen Sing (83)

One of the great kung fu villains in Hong Kong films, including many for Shaw Bros. I’ve seen him in dozens of films and he was not only a great fighter, but a great actor as well. He occasionally played heroes and was very good when he did, as in SHAOLIN MONK (aka KILLER PRIEST), THOU SHALL NOT KILL…BUT ONCE (aka FEROCIOUS MONK FROM SHAOLIN), THE RAGE OF WIND, and BRUCE AND SHAOLIN KUNG FU.

Albert Finney (82)

One of the English stars who emerged in the 1960s, he’s great as a disillusioned working-class guy grappling with commitment in SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING (1960). He became a star with the success of TOM JONES (1963), which won Best Picture of 1963. He was nominated for Best Actor four times and Best Supporting Actor once (ERIN BROCKOVICH, 2000). He played Ebenezer Scrooge in SCROOGE (1970), Hercule Poirot in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974), Daddy Warbucks in ANNIE (1982) and Winston Churchill in “The Gathering Storm” (2002). I last saw him in the James Bond film, SKYFALL (2012).

Ron Leibman (82)

He has a memorable comic turn in THE HOT ROCK (1972) as one of the heist team trying to steal a rare African jewel from the Brooklyn Museum. He crashes a car outside the museum in order to divert police and emergency services and, wearing pre-ripped and “bloodied” clothes, pretends to be an injured accident victim. I also remember him from SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE (1972) and NORMA RAE (1979).

Dick Dale (81)

In BEACH PARTY (1963), Dick Dale and the Del Tones perform two great surf songs, “Swingin’ and a-Surfin’” and “Secret Surfin’ Spot,” two of the highlight sequences in one of the best drive-in movies of the 1960s.

Paul Benjamin (81)

The robbery-murder of mafia drug dealers in Harlem in ACROSS 110TH STREET (1973) sets off a manhunt in which the three robbers better hope that the police get to them before the mob does. Benjamin plays the trigger-happy member of the trio. He plays one of Clint Eastwood’s inmate buddies in ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979) and one of the trio of street philosophers, aka “corner men,” in DO THE RIGHT THING (1989).

Michael J. Pollard (80)

I first saw him as a befuddled employee at a private airfield in THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING (1966), but he achieved fame as the hapless young C.W. Moss, a protégé of the title pair in BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967). He’s also in Roger Corman’s THE WILD ANGELS (1966), Michael Winner’s war movie, HANNIBAL BROOKS (1969), and the revisionist western, DIRTY LITTLE BILLY (1972). He was on the original “Star Trek” in the “Miri” episode.

Sid Haig (80)

With a 57-year career in film and TV, Haig played all kinds of menacing characters, often with comic flair, in dozens of drive-in and exploitation movies from the 1960s onward, appearing with Pam Grier in several movies (THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, COFFY, FOXY BROWN, etc.), and reuniting with her as the judge who hears her case in JACKIE BROWN (1997). He was a favorite of director Rob Zombie (HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES). He also appeared on the original “Star Trek.”

David Winters (80)

He played A-rab, one of the Jets in WEST SIDE STORY (1961). A top choreographer in Hollywood, he also directed several B-movies, including, most recently, DANCIN’ IT’S ON (2015), which I wrote about here. I saw him earlier this year in a 1963 episode of “Perry Mason.”

Peter Fonda (79)

The son of screen legend Henry Fonda, Peter and his sister Jane Fonda had parallel careers as rising stars in the 1960s and even appeared together in the made-in-Europe Edgar Allan Poe anthology, SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (1968). Peter gained fame in such counterculture films as THE WILD ANGELS (1966) and THE TRIP (1967), both for director Roger Corman, and his own production, EASY RIDER (1969). He continued to make drive-in movies right through the 1970s, including three I like very much, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY (1974), RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975), and FUTUREWORLD (1976). The last thing I saw Fonda in was the 2007 western remake, 3:10 TO YUMA.

Robert Walker Jr. (79)

The son of two Hollywood stars, Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones, he was a dead ringer for his late father (who died in 1951), and had a promising career in the 1960s that never quite took off, although he worked pretty steadily through the early 1990s. He starred in “Charlie X,” a celebrated episode of the original “Star Trek.” He appears with Peter Fonda in EASY RIDER.

Anna Karina (79)

One of the darlings of the French New Wave, Karina married Jean-Luc Godard and starred in several of his films, including two of my favorites, ALPHAVILLE (1965) and PIERROT LE FOU (1965).

Joan Staley (79)

She worked in TV from 1959 to 1982 and appeared in four episodes of “Perry Mason.”  She was in movies with Jerry Lewis (THE LADIES MAN, 1961), Elvis Presley (ROUSTABOUT, 1964), Don Knotts (THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN, 1966), and Audie Murphy (GUNPOINT, 1966).

Rene Auberjonois (79)

One of Robert Altman’s stock company, I saw him in these Altman films, M*A*S*H, BREWSTER MCCLOUD, MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, IMAGES, and THE PLAYER, as well as THE HINDENBURG, KING KONG (1976), EYES OF LAURA MARS, and WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM .

Robert Forster (78)

He had high-profile movie roles in the late 1960s (THE STALKING MOON, JUSTINE, MEDIUM COOL) and two TV series of his own, “Banyon” and “Nakia,” but his star dimmed in the 1970s and he was soon doing drive-in and low-budget films, with only occasional wide releases like THE BLACK HOLE (1979) and THE DELTA FORCE (1986). Then Quentin Tarantino dropped the script for JACKIE BROWN (1997) onto his lap and revitalized his career, giving him the part of bail bondsman Max Cherry and getting him an Oscar nomination in the process.

Claudine Auger (78)

Domino in the fourth James Bond film, THUNDERBALL (1965). I never saw her in anything else, but this film is more than enough to include her here.

Bruno Ganz (77)

German actor who starred in Wim Wenders’ THE AMERICAN FRIEND (1977), Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE (1979), and Wenders’ WINGS OF DESIRE (1987). I last saw him in the remake of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (2003). He played Hitler in DOWNFALL (2004), where we find the bunker scene that is the source of all those hilarious Hitler videos with altered subtitles.

Carol Lynley (77)

After debuting in the Disney drama, THE LIGHT IN THE FOREST (1958), she became a star at 17 in the teen pregnancy drama, BLUE DENIM (1959), and appeared in such films as HOUND-DOG MAN (1959), RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE (1961), THE LAST SUNSET (1961), UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE (1963), HARLOW (1965), BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965) and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972). She was active in films and TV from 1956 to 1990 and intermittently after that.

Rutger Hauer (75)

Started out in Dutch films and attracted international attention in Paul Verhoeven’s SOLDIER OF ORANGE (1977), before making his Hollywood debut in NIGHTHAWKS (1981) and achieving his breakout role as replicant Roy Batty in Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER (1982).

Jan-Michael Vincent (74)

Young leading man who emerged in the late 1960s in the John Wayne western, THE UNDEFEATED (1969), and had a solid career in the 1970s and ’80s, appearing as Robert Mitchum’s estranged son in GOING HOME (1971), Charles Bronson’s assassin protégé in THE MECHANIC (1972), and Burt Reynolds’ stuntman sidekick in HOOPER (1978). He later got high-profile work on television in the miniseries,“The Winds of War” (1983), where he again played Mitchum’s son, and his own action series,“Airwolf” (1984-86).

Paul Koslo (74)

One of the great bad guys of the 1970s, usually as young redneck types. He was a good guy in THE OMEGA MAN (1971), the first film I saw him in, but a bad guy in everything else I saw that decade: VANISHING POINT, JOE KIDD, CLEOPATRA JONES, THE STONE KILLER, THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, MR. MAJESTYK, THE DROWNING POOL, ROOSTER COGBURN, LOVE AND BULLETS, and HEAVEN’S GATE.

Sue Lyon (73)

As a teenager she made a splash in Stanley Kubrick’s LOLITA (1962) and John Huston’s THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (1964). She was one of the title characters in John Ford’s 7 WOMEN (1966) and played opposite Frank Sinatra in TONY ROME (1967).

Billy Drago (73)

A great villain of the 1980s and ’90s, he played an over-the-top Frank Nitti in Brian De Palma’s THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) and popped up in the Chuck Norris thrillers, INVASION U.S.A. (1985), HERO AND THE TERROR (1988) and DELTA FORCE 2: THE COLOMBIAN CONNECTION (1990). He was the lead villain opposite Cynthia Rothrock in LADY DRAGON 2 (1993).

Peggy Lipton (72)

Lipton starred on TV in “Mod Squad” (1968-1973) and “Twin Peaks” (1990-91, 2017). She was married for 15 years to music producer Quincy Jones and is the mother of actress Rashida Jones.

Louisa Moritz (72)

Cuban-born Moritz was sexy and funny and appeared in such movies of the 1970s and ’80s as DEATH RACE 2000, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, CANNONBALL!, UP IN SMOKE, LUNCH WAGON, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN and CHAINED HEAT. I most remember her from an appearance on “The Dating Game” in which three men vied for dates with her and comedian Murray Langston, the future “Unknown Comic,” won the date.


4 Responses to “Actors We Lost in 2019”

  1. realthog December 31, 2019 at 10:30 PM #

    A really useful compilation: many thanks. Tears shed in a few cases, perhaps especially Diahann Carroll.

  2. Judith Trojan January 1, 2020 at 1:26 AM #

    Here’s another great talent who passed away in 2019, Brian: Carol Channing.

  3. Judith Trojan January 1, 2020 at 1:27 AM #

    Also Luke Perry!

  4. Ted Hicks January 1, 2020 at 7:58 PM #

    This is a great post. Thanks! Jan Merlin was also in 30 episodes of the sci-fi series “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” from 1951-1954. Glad you mentioned “Extreme Prejudice” in your Rip Torn entry. I’ve always liked that film, even the “Wild Bunch”-inspired shootout at the end. Powers Boothe is also great in it. Rip Torn was totally authentic, as usual.

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