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G.D. Spradlin was the scariest actor alive (even in the '80s)



G.D. Spradlin

In a few years, when my obsession with the past overcomes me and sends me into a free fall through insanity, I'm going to place a majority of the blame on the characters played by the late G.D. Spradlin, who died this weekend at age 90.

In reality, Spradlin wasn't a huge player in the movie biz in the '80s. He had only a few memorable roles in our decade. But throughout that decade and others, in front of every character he played you could add the adjective "sadistic" and be right 99 percent of the time. Examples? Okay, how about 1984's Tank where he plays the very literally sadistic Sheriff Cyrus Buelton . Or 1983's The Lords of Discipline, where Spradlin played the slightly less, but racist/sadist Gen. Bentley Durrell?

And after seeing Spradlin as the (YES) sadistic hoops coach Moreland Smith in 1977's One On One (opposite Robby Benson), I never wanted to pick up a basketball again. (And it gave us all an entirely unwanted meaning to the phrase "red hot poker.") He mirrored the evil coach role again in 1979's North Dallas Forty.

Still, I have no doubt that Spradlin wasn't anything like the villains he portrayed on film. I remain fascinated by those who obtain fame in the character-actor biz. That willingness to let yourself be pigeon-holed so much that the very sight of you probably made generations of theater-goers cringe. And yet, when I google his name, I find very little about the man himself.

He made a fortune in the oil business before starting acting in his 40s. He could recite passages of Shakespeare (the villainous ones, I presume?) right up until his death. The L.A. Times, which points out his genius in roles in Godfather II and Apocalypse Now, commends him for playing "authority figures." But I don't think that term really fits. Must authority always be evil? To Spradlin, the answer was obviously yes.

Somehow, film after film, Spradlin could channel all the darkness the world could loan him. He could transform himself into the most despicable person we'd ever conjure up. Whenever I think of One on One, I still see G.D Spradlin's glowering face, peering out over the court, ready to crush the soul of anyone who looks him directly in the eyes. And I thank him. And we'll miss him.

[Last modified: Tuesday, July 26, 2011 1:30pm]


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