William B. Davis

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William B. Davis
Davis in 2011
William Bruce Davis

(1938-01-13) January 13, 1938 (age 86)
Years active1949–present
Emmanuelle Herpin
(m. 2011)

William Bruce Davis (born January 13, 1938) is a Canadian actor, best known for his role as the Cigarette Smoking Man on The X-Files. Besides appearing in many TV programs and movies, he founded his own acting school, the William Davis Centre for Actors Study. In his personal life, he is an avid water-skier, lectures on skepticism at events such as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry's CSICon, and advocates for action on climate change. In 2011 he published his memoir, Where There's Smoke ... The Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.

Early life and education[edit]

Davis was born in Toronto to a lawyer father and psychologist mother.[1] He began his acting career as a child in 1949, in radio drama and summer stock theatre. His cousins Murray and Donald Davis ran the Straw Hat Players in Ontario in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and rehearsed in the basement of Davis's house. When they needed a boy they gave William his first professional acting job. He subsequently became a boy actor on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio before his voice broke.[2][3] In 1955 he enrolled at the University of Toronto to study philosophy, but actively pursued an acting career, as did his friend Donald Sutherland. In 1959, he graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. While at university he switched his attention from acting to directing and with his partner, Karl Jaffary, ran the Straw Hat Players for four years.[4]


In 1960, Davis went to England to train at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He worked in the UK for the next five years directing in repertory theatres and acting schools. He was artistic director of the Dundee Repertory Theatre.[5] His last position in the UK was as an assistant director at the National Theatre of Great Britain[6] under Laurence Olivier where he worked with Albert Finney, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, and Ronald Pickup among others.[3] He returned to Canada in 1965 to work at the National Theatre School of Canada and soon, at the age of 28, was appointed artistic director of the English acting section.[7] During this period he was also active as a freelance director at major Canadian theatres. In 1971 he joined the newly formed drama department at Bishop's University in Lennoxvile, Quebec. While there he became the founding artistic director of Festival Lennoxville, a professional summer theatre that ran for the next decade.[8]

Returning to Toronto in the late seventies, Davis spent several years as a radio drama director and on the faculty of Humber College. In demand as an acting teacher during this period, he resumed acting after an absence of nearly 20 years. He earned a number of roles on stage and film before accepting the position of artistic director of the Vancouver Playhouse Acting School, which required relocating with his wife and family. Davis writes in his memoir, "And so, in the fall of 1985, we hitched our second hand boat to our second hand car and drove across the country."[9]

While his time at the Vancouver Playhouse was short-lived, he remained in Vancouver where he founded his own acting school, the William Davis Centre for Actors Study,[7] a training ground for several future stars including New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless.[10] Acting roles became more frequent, leading up to his iconic role as the Cigarette Smoking Man (also called the "Cancer Man") on the hit TV series The X-Files, where he made frequent appearances for the next nine years. Davis has also had a wide range of roles in other series, including Stargate SG-1 and Smallville, and has participated in a host of television movies and other projects. From time to time he attends fan conventions, signing autographs and copies of his memoir.[11]

In recent years Davis has returned to directing theatre and film. He wrote and directed three short films, and co-wrote and directed several episodes of a television series for CBC Television, 49th & Main. In 2011 he directed two plays for The United Players of Vancouver: Waste by Harley Granville Barker, and Hay Fever by Noël Coward.[12][13][14] Most recently he directed The Habit of Art (2013) by Alan Bennett, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily (2015) by Katie Forgette, and Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons at the Jericho Arts Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia.[15][16]

During that period, he also appeared in 10 episodes of the Canadian hit show Continuum as Older Alec Sadler on Showcase. Most recently, he reprised his iconic X-Files role in the six-episode Season 10.[17]

Personal life[edit]

Despite being known for his smoking character, Davis quit smoking in the 1970s. When The X-Files started, he was given a choice between herbal cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes. At first he chose to use tobacco, but switched to herbal because he feared becoming addicted to them again.[17] He used his notoriety on the show to assist the Canadian Cancer Society in its programs to combat smoking.[18] In 2014, he donated his investments that supported fossil fuels to the David Suzuki Foundation in an effort to both ethically invest, and help fund work to fight climate change.[19] He is a passionate advocate for action in response to climate change, believing it a critical issue of our time and speaking on the subject often.[20][21] Taking action on a personal level, he drives a Tesla powered by hydroelectricity.[21]

He is also a former national champion water skier and for a time held records in older age divisions. In a conversation with Brendan Beiser, he said he held the record for tricks in his age category, adding: "I did hold the slalom record until this past year until some young whippersnapper of 65 from Ontario took the record away from me."[2]

In 2011, Davis married Emmanuelle Herpin.[20] He has two daughters, Melinda and Rebecca, from an earlier marriage, and two grandchildren.


Davis participating in "Skepticism and the Media" panel at CSICon 2011 in New Orleans

While on The X-Files, Davis was constantly challenged by fans of the show about his non-belief in the paranormal and aliens.[22] Davis credits Barry Beyerstein and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) for introducing him to the skeptic community. Davis became increasingly involved in the skeptic movement and began to give lectures as a skeptic spokesman at universities across North America and at skeptic conventions, including CSI's CSICon in New Orleans.[23]

When asked about his belief in the paranormal at the London Film and Comic Con in 2010, Davis replied, "The onus is on you to prove the extraordinary ... I did a lot of research and saw where a lot of the arguments were wanting."[11]

Interviewed by Jacob Fortin on guilt about being a sceptic yet acting in a show that Richard Dawkins campaigned against, Davis replied that at first he had some trepidation until realizing that Dawkins "had no evidence whatsoever and presented none" that the show encouraged people to think uncritically. "The show is fiction ... it isn't a documentary." In another interview with Justin Trottier of the Centre for Inquiry Canada, Davis answered similarly, adding that from his own informal polls of audiences of X-Files fans it seemed there was no greater belief in the paranormal than the normal population and he comforted himself with this thought.[24]

Asked about a debate Davis moderated with alien abduction believer John E. Mack, Davis said that many people expected him to support Mack, but they discovered that he was "way on the other side". Davis recounted that he had some great discussions with Mack; "He was brilliant ... he was wrong, but he was very good ... One of the problems with human intelligence is that we are so good at defending ideas that we arrived at irrationally."[25]

In 2002, Davis narrated a Discovery Science Channel docuseries, The Critical Eye. Produced in association with Skeptical Inquirer magazine, the series examined pseudoscientific and paranormal phenomena.



Year Title Role Notes
1983 The Dead Zone Ambulance Driver
1985 Head Office University Dean
1989 Beyond the Stars Hal Simon
Look Who's Talking Drug Doctor
1991 The Hitman Dr. Atkins
1995 Dangerous Intentions Group Leader
1996 Unforgettable Dr. Smoot
1998 The X-Files The Smoking Man
The Last Tzaddik Mr. Drazien Short film
2000 Perpetrators of the Crime Henderson
2001 The Proposal Agent Frank Gruning
Out of Line Russell
Mindstorm Parish
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back The Smoking Man Uncredited
Andhrax Tye Crow
2002 Polished Phillip Short film
Aftermath Deputy Director Edwards
Body & Soul Dr. Edward A. Esseff
2003 Broken Saints Benjamin Palmer
Arbor Vitae Old Soul Short film
2004 Snakehead Terror Doc Jenkins
Lyon King Finance Minister Short film
Packing Up Jenkins Short film
2005 The Cost of Living Mark Mortinson Short film
The Last Round Mitchell
Max Rules Rick Brinkley
2006 The Janitors Harvey Short film
Sisters Dr. Bryant
2007 The Messengers Colby Price
Numb Peter Milbank
2008 The Femme Fatale Sam Video short film
A Pickle Mack Short film
Passengers Jack
Reverse Chris Short film
2009 Possession Dr. Creane
The Shortcut Benjamin Hartley
The Thaw Ted
Damage Veltz
2010 Blob The Boss Short film
Flowers for Norma Older Gentleman #2 Short film
Amazon Falls Calvin
2011 Goose on the Loose Alphonse David
Rise of the Damned Doctor
2012 The Tall Man Sheriff Chestnut
The Package Dr. Willhelm
2013 Singularity Principle Lawrence Cason
2014 Focus Mr. Grant
2016 Residue Lamont
Abduct Zane
2BR02B: To Be or Naught to Be Granddad Short film
2017 Death Note Radio Host
2018 Game Over, Man! Ray Security
Bad Times at the El Royale Judge Gordon Hoffman
2019 Phil Father Grant
2019 Crystal's Shadow Zane Mcallister
TBA Villain Lamont Rumored

Television films[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1985 The Cuckoo Bird Ted
1987 Deadly Deception Lawyer
Sworn to Silence Peter Massio
The Little Match Girl Dr. Sam Easton
1989 Matinee Heath Harris
1990 Anything to Survive Dr. Reynolds
It Mr. Gedreau
1991 Omen IV: The Awakening Lawyer Uncredited
1992 Diagnosis Murder Marvin Parkins
1994 Heart of a Child Vern
Beyond Suspicion Capt. Dick Roth
Don't Talk to Strangers Huddleston
1995 Not Our Son Police Chief Uncredited
Circumstances Unknown Gene Reuschel
Courting Justice Dr. Alexander
1996 The Limbic Region Teacher
1998 Voyage of Terror Dr. Norman Ellisy
1999 Murder Most Likely Detective Inspector
2000 Killing Moon Ed
Becoming Dick Dr. Hardwin
2002 Damaged Care Dr. Sam Verbush
Saint Sinner Father Michael
100 Days in the Jungle
2003 Word of Honor Lewis Kaplan
2004 The Cradle Will Fall Dist. Atty. Alex Myerson
2005 Dark Pines Shannon Fraser
2006 Dark Storm General Killion
Her Fatal Flaw Richard O'Brien
The Secret of Hidden Lane Judge Landers
2007 Judicial Indiscretion Senator Garland Wolf
2009 Something Evil Comes Mr. Dutton
Web of Desire Dr. Charles Friedman
2010 Medium Raw: Night of the Wolf Dr. Robert Parker
2011 Behemoth William Walsh
2013 Stonados Ben

Television series[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1984 SCTV Channel Man on the phone Episode: "Half Wits Save the World Parade"
1986 The Beachcombers Dave Douglas Episode: "Trial Balloon"
1987 Danger Bay Norris Episode: "High Five"
Airwolf "Company" official 4 episodes
21 Jump Street Mr. Wiedlin Episode: "Mean Streets and Pastel Houses"
1988 Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future Arvin Episode: "Judgement"
Danger Bay Jack Kane Episode: "Racing Against Time"
21 Jump Street Mr. Wickenton Episode: "Champagne High"
Wiseguy Curant Episode: "The Merchant of Death"
1989 Wiseguy Inspector #2 Episode: "People Do It All the Time"
1991 21 Jump Street Judge Harrison Episode: "Crossfire"
MacGyver Judge Episode: "Trail of Tears"
The Commish Don Chesley 2 episodes
1992 Street Justice Badgely Episode: "Homecoming"
Nightmare Cafe Doctor Episode: "Sanctuary for a Child"
1993 North of 60 Inspector Nelson Episode: "Out of the Blue"
1993–2018 The X-Files The Smoking Man 43 episodes
1995 Sliders Prof. Myman Episode: "Eggheads"
The Outer Limits Ed Episode: "The Conversion"
1996 Poltergeist: The Legacy Dr. Bill Nigel Episode: "Do Not Go Gently"
The Outer Limits John Wymer Episode: "Out of Body"
1999 Mentors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Episode: "The Truth Is in Here"
2000 The Fearing Mind Michell Cofax Episode: "Gentlemen Caller"
2001 First Wave Sagon Episode: "Checkmate"
The Outer Limits Dr. Biemler Episode: "Worlds Within"
Mythquest Head Priest Episode: "The Oracle"
Andromeda Professor Logitch Episode: "Pitiless as the Sun"
2003 Smallville Mayor William 'Billy' Tate 2 episodes
2004 Kingdom Hospital Dean Swinton Episode: "The Young and the Headless"
Murdoch Mysteries Alderman Godfrey Shepcote Episode: "Expect the Dying"
2005 Tilt Father Mike Episode: "Nobody Ever Listens"
Robson Arms Dr. Carlisle Wainwright 10 episodes
2005–2006 Stargate SG-1 Ori Prior Damaris 2 episodes
2006 Supernatural College Professor Episode: "Scarecrow"
Canadian Comedy Shorts Finance Minister Episode: "Episode #10.9"
2007 Masters of Science Fiction The President Episode: "The Awakening"
2008 Fear Itself Father Chris Episode: "In Sickness and in Health"
2009 Caprica Minister Chambers Episode: "Pilot"
2010 Human Target Whitey Doyle Episode: "Run"
2012–2015 Continuum Older Alec Sadler 10 episodes
2013 The Haunting Hour: The Series Plumberg Episode: "Bad Egg"
2019 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Methuselah 2 episodes
2020, 2022 Upload David Choak 10 episodes
2020 50 States of Fright Frank TV short
2022 The Midnight Club Mirror Man


  1. ^ Davis, William B. (2011). Where There's Smoke: Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, a Memoir. ECW Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-77041-052-7.
  2. ^ a b Brendan Beiser (June 16, 2008). "William B. Davis – This Conversation". This Conversation TV. Archived from the original on August 18, 2017. Retrieved December 2, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "William B. Davis on Fame Dragon Con 2010". YouTube. September 12, 2010. Archived from the original on August 10, 2017. Retrieved December 2, 2011.
  4. ^ Fred Euringer (2000). A Fly on the Curtain. Oberon Press, 978-0778011415. page 103.
  5. ^ Davis, p. 112
  6. ^ "History 1960–1969". National Theatre School of Canada. 2008. Archived from the original on August 27, 2011. Retrieved December 2, 2011.
  7. ^ a b "Program Advisory Committee". Vanarts. 2011. Archived from the original on December 7, 2011. Retrieved December 2, 2011.
  8. ^ "Festival Lennoxville". Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia. November 17, 2006. Archived from the original on August 6, 2011. Retrieved December 2, 2011.
  9. ^ Davis, p. 210.
  10. ^ "Expanded Bio for Lucy Lawless". Lotolux. Archived from the original on February 26, 2012. Retrieved December 16, 2011.
  11. ^ a b "William B. Davis Interview". LSQTV 2010. July 18, 2010. Archived from the original on June 19, 2016. Retrieved December 2, 2011.
  12. ^ "Past Plays 2010–2011". United Players of Vancouver theatre company. Archived from the original on February 18, 2015. Retrieved February 18, 2015.
  13. ^ "William B. Davis – News". Official site of William B. Davis. Archived from the original on March 19, 2012. Retrieved December 16, 2011.
  14. ^ "Past Plays 2011–2012". United Players of Vancouver theatre company. Archived from the original on February 18, 2015. Retrieved February 18, 2015.
  15. ^ "Past Plays 2013–2014". United Players of Vancouver theatre company. Archived from the original on February 18, 2015. Retrieved February 18, 2015.
  16. ^ "SEASON 2014–2015". Jericho Arts Centre. Archived from the original on February 14, 2015. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  17. ^ Nuytens, Gilles (October 11, 2005). "Interview with William B. Davis". The Sci Fi World. Archived from the original on September 30, 2008. Retrieved July 11, 2009.
  18. ^ "Potpourri". Tobacco Control. 7 (3): 304–309. 1998. doi:10.1136/tc.7.3.304. S2CID 193125352. Archived from the original on May 12, 2012. Retrieved December 3, 2011.
  19. ^ Sentes, Rachel (December 11, 2014). "Actor's Divestment from Oil Used to Support Suzuki Foundation". Scribd. Archived from the original on February 19, 2015. Retrieved February 18, 2015.
  20. ^ a b "William B. Davis – Personal". Official Site of William B. Davis. Archived from the original on February 18, 2015. Retrieved February 14, 2015.
  21. ^ a b "William B. Davis Fan Page". Facebook. May 24, 2011. Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  22. ^ Allison Cossitt (March 1998). "Cigarette-Smoking Man". Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  23. ^ John Semley (October 18, 2011). "Random Roles: William B. Davis". A.V. Club. Archived from the original on July 13, 2012. Retrieved October 26, 2011.
  24. ^ X-Files' William B. Davis AKA Cigarette Smoking Man on Atheism, Skepticism and Life (Video). Think Again! TV. March 2, 2012. Archived from the original on March 15, 2016. Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  25. ^ Jacob Fortin (December 22, 2011). "The Good Atheist Podcast: Episode 154". The Good Atheist. Archived from the original on May 14, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2011.

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