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William Atherton

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William Atherton
Atherton in 2009
William Atherton Knight[1]

(1947-07-30) July 30, 1947 (age 76)[2]
EducationCarnegie Mellon University (BFA)
Years active1972–present
Bobbi Goldin
(m. 1980)

William Atherton (born July 30, 1947) is an American actor. He had starring roles in The Sugarland Express (1974), The Day of the Locust (1975), The Hindenburg (1975) and Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), but is most recognized for supporting roles in Ghostbusters and Die Hard film series.

Early life


Atherton was born in Orange, Connecticut. He studied acting at the Drama School at Carnegie Tech and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 1969.[3]



Atherton was successful on the New York stage immediately after graduating and worked with many of the country's leading playwrights including David Rabe, John Guare, and Arthur Miller, winning numerous awards for his work on and off Broadway.[4]

He got his big break playing hapless fugitive Clovis Poplin in The Sugarland Express (1974), the feature film debut of Steven Spielberg. After this, he garnered major roles in dark dramas such as The Day of the Locust (1975) and Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977),[5] as well as the big-budget disaster film The Hindenburg (1975).[6] The Day of the Locust had a troubled production; he walked off the set in frustration and refused to film his final scene.[7] He provided lead vocals for "What'll I Do", the main title theme for the Robert Redford film version of The Great Gatsby.

Atherton also starred as cowboy Jim Lloyd in the miniseries Centennial (1978), based on the novel by James Michener. He appeared in the comedy Ghostbusters (1984) as the officious and condescending EPA agent Walter Peck.

Martha Coolidge chose Atherton to play Professor Jerry Hathaway in the teen comedy Real Genius (1985). Atherton played reporter Richard "Dick" Thornburg in the blockbuster action film Die Hard (1988), and reprised the role in its sequel Die Hard 2 (1990).[8]

Other film credits include No Mercy (1986), The Pelican Brief (1993), Bio-Dome (1996), Mad City (1997), The Crow: Salvation (2000), The Last Samurai (2003), Grim Prairie Tales (1990), the TV movies Buried Alive (1990), Headspace (2005) and Virus (1995). He has also made guest appearances on such television series as The Twilight Zone, Murder, She Wrote, Desperate Housewives, Law & Order, The Equalizer, Boston Legal, Castle and Monk. Atherton provided the voice of Dr. Destiny on Justice League. He had a recurring role in NBC's detective drama Life.

His 2007 appearances included the film The Girl Next Door, an adaptation of the best-selling Jack Ketchum novel of the same name. He also reprised his role as Walter Peck in Ghostbusters: The Video Game, released on June 16, 2009.[9]

Atherton was cast in the final season of ABC's Lost.[10] He appeared in the musical Gigi for the Reprise Theatre in Los Angeles as "Honoré Lachailles" in 2011.[11]

Following his work on the musical, he stepped into a comedic role in Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (2012), produced by Will Ferrell's Funny or Die, Gary Sanchez Productions and Abso Lutely Productions.[12][13]

In summer 2014, Atherton was cast in a recurring role as Viceroy Mercado in the Syfy series Defiance's second season.

Atherton co-starred in the 2017 Netflix thriller, Clinical,[14] and appears in several upcoming documentaries on his most iconic films. The first to be released is the 2019 Cleanin' Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters which features the original 1984 cast.[15]

Personal life


Atherton has been married to writer Bobbi Goldin since December 8, 1980.[16] On The Phil Donahue Show in 1981, Atherton claimed that he was once homosexual but changed due to the Aesthetic Realism of Eli Siegel.[17]

Atherton has sung in various productions in later years. In 2011, he performed "I Remember It Well," a popular song from Gigi with his former Reprise Theater co-star, Millicent Martin, at a sold-out performance in Palm Springs for Michael Childers' One Night Only, benefiting the Jewish Family Service of the Desert.[18] He returned in 2013 to the same sold-out event to sing the classic, "Isn't It Romantic?"[19]

Atherton appeared with his former Centennial costar Stephanie Zimbalist in the Gregory Peck Reading Series, a project of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles benefiting the Los Angeles Public Library. Roddy McDowall was host for the event.[20]

In December 2018, Atherton participated in the Library Foundation's reading of excerpts from book editor and critic, David Kipen's best-seller, Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018.[21]




Year Title Role Notes
1972 The New Centurions Johnson
1973 Class of '44 Fraternity President
1974 The Great Gatsby Singing voice for "What'll I Do"
The Sugarland Express Clovis Michael Poplin
1975 The Day of the Locust Tod Hackett
The Hindenburg Karl Boerth
1976 Independence Benjamin Rush
1977 Looking for Mr. Goodbar James
1984 Ghostbusters Walter Peck
1985 Real Genius Professor Jerry Hathaway
1986 No Mercy Allan Deveneux
1988 Die Hard Richard Thornburg
1990 Die Hard 2 Richard Thornburg
Grim Prairie Tales: Hit the Trail... to Terror Arthur
1991 Oscar Overton
1993 The Pelican Brief Bob Gminski
1994 Saints and Sinners Terence McCone
Frank & Jesse Allan Pinkerton
1996 Bio-Dome Dr. Noah Faulkner
1997 Hoodlum Thomas Dewey
Mad City Malt Dohlen
1998 Michael Kael vs. the World News Company James Denit
1999 The Stranger Arthur
2000 The Crow: Salvation Nathan Randall
Bread and Roses Himself – Party Guest Uncredited
2001 Burning Down the House Arthur Kranston
Race to Space Ralph Stanton
2003 The Last Samurai Winchester Rep
Who's Your Daddy? Uncle Duncan "Duncay" Mack
2005 Into the Sun Agent Block
Headspace Dr. Ira Gold
2007 Kush King
Hacia la oscuridad John
Totally Baked Mr. Lyle Funonion Segment: "FunOnion Boardroom"
The Girl Next Door Adult David Moran
2008 Black Crescent Moon Jo Dexton
2010 The Kane Files: Life of Trial Daniel Morgan
2012 Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie Earle Swinter
Jersey Shore Shark Attack Dolan
The Citizen Winston
2013 Getting Back to Zero
2014 Jinn Father Westhoff
2017 Clinical Terry Drummond
2018 Bad Company
2019 Cleanin' Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters Himself Documentary film
2024 Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire Mayor Walter Peck [22]
TBD Where Did the Adults Go? Teh Father


Year Title Role Notes
1978–1979 Centennial Jim Lloyd 9 episodes
1981 The House of Mirth Lawrence Selden Television film
1983 Malibu Stan Harvey Television film
1985, 1987 The Twilight Zone Mr. Dundee/Brian Wolfe 2 episodes
1985, 1987, 1991 Murder, She Wrote Larry Holleran/Greg Dalton/Andy Henley 3 episodes
1987, 1989 The Equalizer Martin "Alpha" Loeber/Gideon 3 episodes
1990 Buried Alive Cortland "Cort" van Owen Television film
1991 Tales from the Crypt Malcolm Mayflower Episode: "Easel Kill Ya"
1992 Diagnosis: Murder – Diagnosis of Murder Eric Walker Television film
1995 Virus Dr. Reginald Holloway Television film
1996 Nash Bridges Dr. Linus Mills Episode: "Key Witness"
1997, 1999 The Practice D.A. Keith Pratt 3 episodes
1998 The Outer Limits Franklin Murdoch Episode: "To Tell the Truth"
1999 Introducing Dorothy Dandridge Darryl Zanuck Television film
2001 Night Visions William Price Episode: "Hate Puppet/Darkness"
Segment: "Hate Puppet"
2002, 2004 Law & Order Don Snyder/Dan Jensen 2 episodes
2003 Justice League John Dee / Doctor Destiny 2 episodes
2005 Boston Legal A.D.A. Howard Zale Episode: "It Girls and Beyond"
2006 Stargate SG-1 Varta Episode: "Collateral Damage"
Desperate Housewives Dr. Barr 2 episodes
2007 Numb3rs Warren Pierce Episode: "Tabu"
2008 Monk Commander Nathan Whitaker
2008–2009 Life Mickey Rayborn 8 episodes
2010 Lost Principal Donald Reynolds Episode: "Dr. Linus"
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Ned Bogden Episode: "Bedtime"
2011 Castle Dr. Ari Weiss Episode: "Head Case"
2012 Workaholics Thor Holmvik Episode: "The Meat Jerking Beef Boys"
2013 Defiance Viceroy Berto Mercado 5 episodes

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
2009 Ghostbusters: The Video Game Walter Peck Voice
2019 Planet Coaster Walter Peck Voice
Ghostbusters: The Video Game Remastered Walter Peck Voice


  1. ^ Room, Adrian (January 10, 2014). Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins, 5th ed. McFarland. ISBN 9780786457632.
  2. ^ William Atherton at BFI
  3. ^ "William Atherton Biography". Movies.yahoo.com. Retrieved December 25, 2010.
  4. ^ "Professional Bio". William Atherton. Retrieved July 1, 2014.
  5. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 20, 1977). "Film: 'Goodbar' Turns Sour". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 26, 1975). "Screen: George Scott in 'Hindenburg'". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "The Day Of The Locust". moviesalamark.com. May 9, 2018.
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet (July 3, 1990). "Attention, Claims Adjusters! Willis Is Back in 'Die Hard 2'". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Miller, Greg (June 15, 2009). "GHOSTBUSTERS: THE VIDEO GAME REVIEW". IGN.
  10. ^ "Executive Producer Reveals Lost Guest Star on Twitter". tvguide.com. October 28, 2009. Retrieved January 4, 2010.
  11. ^ Mayank Keshaviah (February 24, 2011). "LA Weekly Calendar 'Gigi". LA Weekly. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  12. ^ "William Atherton back on the big screen!". Moviehole. March 3, 2011. Retrieved March 21, 2011.
  13. ^ Weinstein, Joshua L. (January 14, 2010). "'Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' Ramps Up With Galifianakis, Ferrell". Thewrap.com. Retrieved March 21, 2011.
  14. ^ Rotten Tomatoes - Clinical
  15. ^ Cleanin' Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters (2019)
  16. ^ "With a Little Bit of Luck". Los Angeles Times. January 20, 1990. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  17. ^ Donahue - "Are Gays Born This Way?" - WGN-TV (Complete Broadcast, 10/14/1981) Accessed September 29, 2021.
  18. ^ Tickets Sold Out For "One Night Only"; April 18, 2011
  20. ^ A Tribute to Roddy McDowall
  21. ^ Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters, 1542 to 2018
  22. ^ Lopez, Kristen (July 28, 2023). "Sony Pushes 'Ghostbusters: Afterlife' Sequel to Easter 2024". TheWrap. Retrieved July 28, 2023.