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|Born||Noble Henry Willingham, Jr.
August 31, 1931
Mineola, Wood County, Texas, U.S.
|Died||January 17, 2004
Palm Springs, Riverside County, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Resting place||Riverside National Cemetery|
He was born in the small town of Mineola, in Wood County east of Dallas, Texas. After graduating in 1953 from North Texas State University in Denton, he earned a master's degree in educational psychology from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Willingham served in the United States Army during the Korean War.
Willingham was teaching high school government and economics in Houston before he followed his dream of becoming an actor. He auditioned for a part in The Last Picture Show (1971), which was filmed in Texas. He won the role, which led to another appearance, in Paper Moon (1973).
Willingham appeared in more than thirty feature films, including Big Bad Mama (1974), Chinatown (1974), Aloha, Bobby and Rose (1975), Fighting Mad (1976), Greased Lightning (1977), The Boys in Company C (1978), Norma Rae (1979), Fast Charlie... the Moonbeam Rider (1979), Brubaker (1980), The Howling (1981), Harry's War (1981), Independence Day (1983), La Bamba (1987), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), the HBO film The Heist (1989), Blind Fury (1989), City Slickers (1991), The Last Boy Scout (1991), Pastime (1991), Article 99 (1992), The Distinguished Gentleman (1992), Fire In The Sky (1993), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold (1994), Up Close & Personal (1996), and "The Corndog Man" (1999).
On television, Willingham had a recurring role in the ABC series Home Improvement with Tim Allen as John Binford, and appeared as a guest star in the 1975 CBS family drama series Three for the Road. He also guest starred on Murder, She Wrote, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989), Northern Exposure, Rockford Files, Tucker's Witch with Tim Matheson and Catherine Hicks, and Quantum Leap. His additional television credits include A Woman With A Past, The Children Nobody Wanted, The Alamo: Thirteen Days to Glory, and Unconquered. He also played the conductor in Kenny Rogers as The Gambler (1980), he appeared in the 1986 miniseries Dream West, and appeared in Badge of the Assassin (1985) and Men Don't Tell (1993). He guest starred as IRS Agent Bumpers in the show Remington Steele.
In 2000, Willingham was the Republican challenger in the northeast Texas 1st congressional district (Longview, Texarkana, Nacogdoches, Marshall, and Paris) against incumbent Democratic congressman Max Sandlin. Willingham ran a hard-hitting campaign and attacked Sandlin for bringing Bill Clinton to the district and for voting for the Democratic agenda in Congress. Sandlin fought back by citing various moderate votes he had cast and by winning the Chamber of Commerce endorsement. In a district that George W. Bush would easily carry with 64% of the vote, Sandlin held on with 118,157 votes (55.8%) to Willingham's 91,912 votes (43.4%) and carried nineteen counties in the district while losing only two, Nacogdoches and Willingham's home of Wood County. Four years later, Sandlin was defeated for re-election by Republican Louie Gohmert of Tyler.
On January 17, 2004, Willingham died in his sleep of a heart attack in Palm Springs at the age of 72. A veteran of the United States Army during the Korean War, he is buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.