Michael Parks, TV And Movie Character Actor, Dies At 77

May 11, 2017
Originally published on May 11, 2017 11:25 am

Character actor Michael Parks has died after a career that lasted more than 50 years. He was 77.

Parks' agent, Jane Schulman, confirmed his death to news organizations but she did not specify the cause.

Parks, a California native, didn't begin acting until after years of fruit picking, truck driving and firefighting.

In the 1960s, he was on numerous TV shows, and was seen by some in Hollywood as the next James Dean. Most notably, he starred as the brooding ex-newspaperman riding a Harley — a sort of Easy Rider — on the TV series Then Came Bronson.

Park sang the show's theme song, which became a hit on the Billboard and Hot Country songs charts. Parks recorded pop, jazz and gospel albums, too, but mostly stuck to acting. He even starred in the role of Adam in John Huston's 1966 epic The Bible.

Over the decades, he racked up more than a hundred film and TV credits as villains and antiheroes.

He didn't have a major breakthrough until later in his career, when he became a favorite actor of directors Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and David Lynch, who cast him as a murderous French-Canadian drug runner on Twin Peaks.

Parks played a Texas Ranger in From Dusk Till Dawn — a role he reprised in Tarantino's Kill Bill series.

Parks also played a Mexican pimp in that movie, and Tarantino also directed him in Django Unchained and Grindhouse.

Filmmaker Kevin Smith was also a fan, casting him as the bad guy in two horror films, Red State and Tusk.

Smith says Parks was a genius and called him a "Yoda of acting."

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The character actor Michael Parks has died at 77. He appeared in TV shows and in movies for decades and was known for his roles in "Twin Peaks" and also "Kill Bill." NPR arts correspondent Mandalit del Barco reports on just how far he came.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: California native Michael Parks didn't begin acting until after years of fruit picking, truck driving and firefighting. In the 1960s, he played on numerous TV shows, and he was seen by some in Hollywood as the next James Dean. Most notably, he starred as the brooding ex-newspaperman riding a Harley - a sort of "Easy Rider" - on the TV series "Then Came Bronson."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONG LONESOME HIGHWAY")

MICHAEL PARKS: (Singing) Going down that long, lonesome highway, going to live life my way.

DEL BARCO: That's Parks singing the theme song, which became a hit on the Billboard and Hot Country Songs charts. Parks recorded pop, jazz and gospel albums, too, but mostly stuck to acting. He even starred in the role of Adam in John Huston's 1966 epic "The Bible." Over the decades, he racked up more than a hundred film and TV credits as villains and anti-heroes, but he didn't have a major breakthrough until later in his career when he became a favorite actor of directors Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and David Lynch, who cast him as a murderous French-Canadian drug runner on "Twin Peaks."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TWIN PEAKS")

PARKS: (As Jean Renault) Maybe you will be the last to die. Maybe you brought the nightmare with you.

DEL BARCO: Parks played a Texas Ranger in "From Dusk Till Dawn," a role he reprised in Tarantino's "Kill Bill" films.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "KILL BILL")

PARKS: (As Earl McGraw) This ain't no squirrely amateur. This is the work of a solid dog.

DEL BARCO: Parks also played a Mexican pimp in that movie, and Tarantino also directed him in "Django Unchained" and "Grindhouse." Filmmaker Kevin Smith was also a fan, casting him as a bad guy in two horror films, "Red State" and "Tusk." Smith says Parks was a genius and called him a Yoda of acting. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.