Charles Napier, an iconic character actor who specialized in playing stern authority figures and various tough guy roles in an acting career in film and television that spanned more than four decades, passed away today at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital in Bakersfield, CA. He was 75.
Born in 1936 in Scottsville, Kentucky, Napier served in the U.S. Army in the 11th Airborne Division before becoming an actor in the late 1960’s. One of Napier’s first acting roles was playing a space hippie on the Star Trek original series episode “A Way to Eden.” He later became a favorite actor of director Russ Meyer and appeared in his films Cherry, Harry, and Racquel!, The Seven Minutes, Supervixens, and Meyer’s mind-blowing magnum opus Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
Another filmmaker who took a shine to Napier’s distinctive face and voice was Jonathan Demme; Napier went on to appear in nine of Demme’s films including the Oscar-winning hits The Silence of the Lambs (he was one of the unfortunate Memphis policemen who gets killed by Hannibal Lecter) and Philadelphia (he was the judge). Napier has also appeared in films such as The Blues Brothers (He was the cowboy who told John Belushi, “You’re gonna look pretty funny tryin’ to eat corn on the cob with no fuckin’ teeth!”), Rambo: First Blood Part II (a role he took over from Lee Marvin), Maniac Cop 2, Miami Blues, The Grifters, the first two Austin Powers movies, and Lords of Dogtown.
Napier was also known for his expansive resume in television. For the Incredible Hulk series Napier provided the growls made by the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno). In 1977 he had a prominent role in the TV miniseries The Oregon Trail and in 1986 he starred in the short-lived time-traveling cowboys series Outlaws. Other shows Napier has guest starred on include B.J. and the Bear, Dallas, The A-Team, Renegade, Murder She Wrote, Monk, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. In recent years the actor has lent his booming voice to animated series such as The Critic, Men in Black, Superman, God, the Devil, and Bob, The Simpsons, and Squidbillies.
Film critic Roger Ebert (who wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) once compared Napier’s look to that of the comic strip character Steve Canyon. The actor was close friends with the late Rolling Stone political Hunter S. Thompson and even named his son Charles Hunter Napier after Thompson.
Napier reportedly collapsed in his Bakersfield home on Monday after suffering serious health problems for the past few months. The actor’s memoir Square Jaw and Big Heart was published back in March.