If you watched the first two seasons of Twin Peaks, then you know that one of the major characters was Sheriff Harry S. Truman. In many ways, he was the “heart” of Twin Peaks. He and Agent Cooper were very close friends and had a great working rapport. Harry was also a member of the Bookhouse Boys and played an integral role in the show and in the small town.
But he’s not in the new series, and fans are wondering why Michael Ontkean isn’t returning. (We’ll update this story later as we learn more from the show itself about why the character isn’t returning.)
Ontkean and the show’s producers have been pretty quiet about why such a central character isn’t coming back to the show. According to TVLine, the only reason given was from an unnamed source close to Ontkean who said: “Michael is fully retired from show business, and has been for many years.” In fact, this is the closest we have to an official reason for why he isn’t coming back. MacLachlan himself said he wasn’t sure why Ontkean wasn’t returning, according to Daily Mail.
The decision was made pretty early on too, it seems, as TVLine shared the news in October 2015. However, it was still a shock to many people, as it appeared that at one point, Ontkean was looking forward to returning to the role. At least, that’s what Brad Dukes, author of Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks, said. According to Welcome to Twin Peaks, Dukes originally tweeted after the news that he was confused, because he said Ontkean had said he was excited to return and spent hundreds of hours looking for his old jacket, finally asking Dukes to help him find a replica. Dukes did, but later Ontkean told him that he wasn’t going to return to the show after all. You can see Dukes writing about looking for the jacket here.
Robert Forster is stepping in to replace Ontkean’s role, although it’s not known at the time of publication exactly which character Forster will be playing. (Interestingly, Forster was originally the choice for Truman’s role, but ended up having to pass because of other commitments.)
After Twin Peaks ended, Ontkean appeared in many movies and television shows. His credits included Kids Don’t Tell, In Defense of a Married Man, The Right People, In a Child’s Name, Legacy of Lies, Rapture, Vendetta II, Swann: A Mystery, The Stepford Husbands, Summer of the Monkeys, A Chance of Snow, Bear with Me, and Mrs. Ashboro’s Cat. He also appeared on North Shore, The Outer Limits, PSI Factor, Family Album, and Sophie.
The last time Ontkean had an official acting credit was in 2011 when he was in The Descendants a full three years after his previous appearance on the TV series Sophie. In that movie, he played George Clooney’s cousin, Milo. (Note: His credited appearance in 2014 in Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces was a feature film consisting of deleted scenes, not new scenes that Ontkean filmed.)
Ontkean can be scene in this YouTube video from 2012, when he presented the Best Director award at the Eurocinema Hawai’i Film Festival 2012:
Ontkean is older than some of his counterparts, including Kyle MacLachlan. While MacLachlan is 58, Ontkean is 71. He’s married to Jamie Smith Jackson. According to some sources he’s living in Vancouver, Canada, but other sources place him in Hawaii.
Update with Spoilers from Part 7: In Episode 7, we learned that Sheriff Truman’s absence is being explained by some type of illness. His brother called him and told him to take care of himself and get better, after learning where he was. Although the show didn’t reveal to viewers where Sheriff Truman is in the Twin Peaks universe, many fans are guessing that the character is battling cancer and possibly in hospice.