William Smith (actor)

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William Smith
William smith actor 1973.png
William Emmett Smith

(1933-03-24)March 24, 1933
DiedJuly 5, 2021(2021-07-05) (aged 88)
Other namesBig Bill
Years active1942–2020
Michele Smith
(m. 1969; div. 1989)

Joanne Cervelli
(m. 1989)
ChildrenWilliam E. Smith III
Sherri Anne Cervelli[1]

William Emmett Smith (March 24, 1933 – July 5, 2021) was an American actor. In a Hollywood career spanning more than 75 years, he appeared in almost three hundred feature films and television productions in a wide variety of character roles, accumulating over 480 total credits,[2] with his best known role being the menacing Anthony Falconetti in the 1970s television mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man. Smith is also known for films like Any Which Way You Can (1980), Conan The Barbarian (1982), Rumble Fish (1983), and Red Dawn (1984), as well as lead roles in several exploitation films during the 1970s.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Smith was born on March 24, 1933, in Columbia, Missouri, to William Emmett Smith and Emily Richards Smith, and grew up on the cattle ranch owned by his parents.[1] His family later moved to Southern California, where he began his acting career at the age of eight in 1942; entering films as a child actor in such films as The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Song of Bernadette and Meet Me in St. Louis.

Smith served in the United States Air Force. He won the 200-pound (91 kg) arm-wrestling championship of the world multiple times and also won the United States Air Force weightlifting championship. A lifelong bodybuilder, Smith was a record holder for reverse-curling his own body weight. His trademark arms measured as much as 19+12 inches.[citation needed] Smith held a 31–1 record as an amateur boxer. A fluent Russian speaker, during the Korean War Smith was a Russian Intercept Interrogator and flew secret ferret missions over the Russian SFSR. He was reportedly also fluent in French, German and Serbo-Croatian.[3] He had both CIA and NSA clearances and intended to enter a classified position with the U.S. government, but while he was working on his doctorate studies he landed an acting contract with MGM.[citation needed]

In the years from 1961 to 2014, Smith established himself as a highly prolific and profoundly talented character actor with roles in a diverse range of genres. Although often typecast as an anti-social personality, he sporadically got other kinds of roles as a law enforcement officer or an anti-heroic protagonist. He was a regular on the 1961 ABC television series The Asphalt Jungle, portraying police Sergeant Danny Keller. In 1964, he appeared in the episode "The Rope of Lies" as Bill, a ranch hand from the Shiloh Ranch in the syndicated television series The Virginian. One of his earliest leading roles was as Joe Riley, a good-natured Texas Ranger on the NBC western series Laredo (1965–1967). In 1967, Smith guest starred as Jude Bonner on James Arness's long-lived western Gunsmoke.

Smith was cast as John Richard Parker, brother of Cynthia Ann Parker, both taken hostage in Texas by the Comanche, in "The Understanding" (1969), an episode of Death Valley Days. In the story line, Parker contracts the plague, is left for dead by his fellow Comanche warriors, and is rescued by his future Mexican wife, Yolanda (Emily Banks).[4] He played the outlaw turned temporary sheriff Hendry Brown in the 1969 episode "The Restless Man". In that story line, Brown takes the job of sheriff to tame a lawless town, begins to court a young woman (again played by Emily Banks), but soon returns to his deadly outlaw ways in search of bigger thrills.[5]

On Gunsmoke, Smith appeared[6] in a 1972 episode, "Hostage!"; his character beats and rapes Amanda Blake's character Miss Kitty Russell and shoots her twice in the back. Smith has been described as the "greatest bad-guy character actor of our time".[7]

Smith joined the cast of the final season of Hawaii Five-O as Detective James "Kimo" Carew, a new officer in the Five-O unit. He had previously appeared with Jack Lord in Stoney Burke. Smith starred in one episode each of the Adam West Batman TV series (in the episode "Minerva, Mayhem and Millionaires" as Adonis, one of the minions of the title guest villainess portrayed by Zsa Zsa Gabor), I Dream of Jeannie (in the episode "Operation: First Couple on the Moon" as Turk Parker), Kung Fu, and as The Treybor, a ruthless warlord, in the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode "Buck's Duel to the Death". Smith also made guest appearances opposite James Garner in the 1974 two-hour pilot for The Rockford Files (titled "Backlash of the Hunter" and also featuring Lindsay Wagner and Bill Mumy), and George Peppard in The A-Team (in two appearances as different characters, in the first season's "Pros and Cons" and the fourth season's "The A-Team Is Coming, The A-Team Is Coming").

In the 1976 television miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man, he portrayed Anthony Falconetti, nemesis of the Jordache family, and reprised the role in the sequel, Rich Man, Poor Man Book II.[1] Other 1970s TV appearances included the Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "The Energy Eater", as an Indian medicine man who advises Kolchak, and an early Six Million Dollar Man episode "Survival of the Fittest" as Commander Maxwell. He also appeared in the 1979 miniseries The Rebels as John Waverly, in an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard as Jason Steele, a bounty hunter hired by Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane to frame the Duke Boys into jail, and in an episode of Knight Rider as Harold Turner, the manipulative leader of a hellish biker gang whom David Hasselhoff's character Michael Knight has to outsmart.

On the big screen, Smith became the star of several cult movies from the early seventies. Smith appeared as heavy Terry Bartell in Darker than Amber in 1970. In the fist fight scene that ends the film, Rod Taylor hit Smith (who was playing the villain) who retaliated in kind,[8] and a staged-fight scene became a real fight as the cameras continued to roll.[1] Smith later reported that Taylor was "a very tough guy" who broke three of his ribs while he broke Taylor's nose.[9]

Also in 1970, Smith featured in two biker flicks Nam's Angels (originally released under the title "The Losers") co-starring Bernie Hamilton and C.C. and Company with Ann-Margret, Joe Namath, Jennifer Billingsley and genre favorite, Sid Haig, the latter of which was directed by Seymour Robbie and written by Ann-Margret's husband, actor Roger Smith. He starred in 1972's Grave of the Vampire as James Eastman (co-starring with Michael Pataki and Lyn Peters), and 1973's Invasion of the Bee Girls (co-starring Victoria Vetri, Anitra Ford and Katie Saylor, written by Nicholas Meyer and directed by Denis Sanders), and 1975's The Swinging Barmaids (starring Ms. Saylor, Bruce Watson and Laura Hippe, and directed by Gus Trikonis). In 1972 and 1975, respectively, he appeared in two popular Blaxploitation films, Hammer and the controversially titled Boss Nigger, both with Fred Williamson. In 1972, he appeared in a Columbo episode "The Greenhouse Jungle" as Ken Nichols, a handsome swindler who may be a person of interest in Columbo's murder investigation. After that, he played a vindictive sergeant in Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977) with an all-star cast headed by Burt Lancaster and Richard Widmark, a drag-racing legend in Fast Company (1979) also co-starring Claudia Jennings and John Saxon, the main character's father in Conan the Barbarian (1982) with Arnold Schwarzenegger, bad guy Matt Diggs in The Frisco Kid (1979) opposite Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford, and Clint Eastwood's bare-knuckle opponent Jack Wilson in 1980's Any Which Way You Can (a sequel to 1978's Every Which Way But Loose in which Smith did not appear), and also had a top villainous role of the Soviet commander in the hit 1984 theatrical film Red Dawn.

In 1983, Smith appeared in two films from Francis Ford Coppola, in The Outsiders as a store clerk and in Rumble Fish as a police officer. In 1985, Smith landed the starring role of Brodie Hollister in the Disney mini-series Wildside, created by writer-producer Tom Greene, and another role as the bookmaker Dutchman's strongarm enforcer known simply as "Panama Hat", in director Richard Brooks's final movie, Fever Pitch (1985) opposite Ryan O'Neal. Although it was reported that Smith retired from film in 2014 with his last screen appearance, he did make a cameo appearance in the Steve Carell comedy, Irresistible (2020).


In 2009, Smith published The Poetic Works of William Smith.[1]

Smith died at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Los Angeles, on July 5, 2021, at the age of 88.[10]

Selected filmography[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Medina, Eduardo (July 11, 2021). "William Smith, Action Star Known for His Onscreen Brawls, Dies at 88". New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2021.
  2. ^ a b Erickson, Hal (2016). "William Smith". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on March 23, 2014.
  3. ^ Kim, Wook (April 11, 2012). "William Smith | Brilliant Classroom Characters: The Top 10 Wicked Smart Actors". Time – via entertainment.time.com.
  4. ^ ""The Understanding" on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved July 11, 2015.
  5. ^ "A Restless Man on Death Valley Days". tv.com. Retrieved July 13, 2015.
  6. ^ "Gunsmoke "Hostage!"". William Smith Official Fan Site. December 11, 1972. Archived from the original on April 1, 2013. Retrieved February 8, 2016.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 14, 2009. Retrieved March 8, 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Tal, Tim (April 1, 2010). "William Smith: My fight with Clint Eastwood was longest two-man fight scene on screen". BZ Film. Retrieved July 12, 2021.
  9. ^ Louis Paul (2007). Tales from the Cult Film Trenches: Interviews with 36 Actors from Horror, Science Fiction and Exploitation Cinema. McFarland, pg. 226
  10. ^ Bartlett, Rhett (July 9, 2021). "William Smith, Action Actor and Star of 'Laredo' and 'Rich Man, Poor Man,' Dies at 88". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 9, 2021.

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