Actor Anthony James, known for starring in films like In the Heat of the Night and Unforgiven, has died. He was 77.
According to an obituary announcement posted by a funeral home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, James died of cancer.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Was Known for Playing Killers and Other Disturbed Characters
The 6-foot-6-inch actor had his last stint on the big screen in the 1992 film Unforgiven, which won Best Picture at the Oscars. James played the role of Skinny Dubois, a brothel owner.
James’ IMDb profile reads, “Tall and lanky, with a rough, pockmarked face, a lean, stringy build, greasy dark hair and an extremely edgy’n’intense screen presence, James was often cast in Westerns as really scary, sleazy and disgusting villains.”
In an interview with The Spectrum, the actor joked, “I have to remind people that I did play love scenes, it’s just that they were at knife-point!”
James’ first break came six years after moving to Hollywood, in one-line roles in the TV series T.H.E. Cat and Captain Nice, according to The Spectrum. It was these bookings that scored him his SAG card. In 1967, at the age of 26, James landed another breakout role in the film In the Heat of the Night.
Over the course of his career, James acted with a number of iconic performers, including Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Bette Davis, Richard Harris, Blythe Danner, Jeff Bridges and Clint Eastwood.
2. He Was Born in South Carolina
James was born in South Carolina in 1942. His father, George, operated a fine dining restaurant in Myrtle Beach in the 1940s, according to his obituary. He died when James was just eight.
James played tight end for his high school’s football team, was an adept artist, and, eventually, aspired to be an actor.
In 1960, he and his mother, Marika, moved from South Carolina to Hollywood. His mother worked endlessly to support her son.
“She took a job as a factory steam presser while I tried to start my career,” James recalled to The Spectrum. “I really didn’t have a clue how to begin, and even looked for starring roles in the want-ads of the LA Times. Those first years in Hollywood were difficult and scary.”
3. He Published a Memoir in 2014
After his mother passed away in 2008, James began his memoir, Acting My Face, which was published in 2014. According to The Spectrum, agents initially advised him to remove his mother from the book. James refused.
The outlet quotes him as saying, “After all those years of agents and publishers wanting to ‘throw Momma from the train,’ the book was published by the University of Mississippi Press.”
In the autobiography, James outlines how he came to be typecast as a villain. He told The News-Sentinel of his casting, “My mother wasn’t thrilled – she always thought of me as the heroic romantic lead – but eventually accepted it.”
4. He Was an Abstract Painter
According to The Spectrum, James was an avid abstract painter, and Clint Eastwood was even a fan of his. His works sold in galleries in the U.S. and Japan, according to his obituary.
His talents extended beyond fine art, though. In 1994, James published a book of art and poetry titled Language of the Heart.
A portion of his obituary reads, “Galleries in Boston, New York, Santa Fe, San Francisco and Japan sold more than a hundred of his paintings. Gorgeous creations they are, many of them multi-layered with Greek letters and bits of text over delicate washes of white or blue or brown. Along with the paintings there were the poems.”
5. He Moved to Boston After Retiring
After retiring, James moved to New England, where he devoted most of his time to painting and writing.
He never married and has no siblings or children.
The Spectrum quotes James as saying, “I never considered myself a celebrity, just a sometime recognizable face. I hope people will laugh out loud at some of the book’s Hollywood tales and are moved by my mother’s story.”