Anthony James, a prolific actor best known for his work in The Naked Gun and Unforgiven, has passed away at the age of 77. His death was confirmed through an obituary announcement posted by a funeral home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the cause of death being cancer. James' film career was bookended by appearances in two Best Picture-winning films -- portraying Ralph Henshaw In 1967's In the Heat of the Night, and Skinny Dubois in 1992's Unforgiven. His filmography also included an appearance in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, and portraying Sub-Commander Thei in a Season 1 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Born to Greek immigrants on July 22, 1942, James (whose real name was James Anthony) convinced his mother to sell their family possessions and take a train to Los Angeles when he was just eighteen. James paid for acting classes by cleaning bathrooms, and made his first on-screen appearance in an episode of the 1996 NBC series T.H.E. Cat.
James, who towered at 6-foot-6, gained a reputation for playing lanky, villainous roles in a wide array of projects, including Vanishing Point, Hearts of the West, Burnt Offerings, and Blue Thunder. He also was a pretty popular face in television, with seven appearances on Gunsmoke, and appearances on The Big Valley, Hawaii Five-O, Mod Squad, Police Story, Starsky and Hutch, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The A-Team, Simon & Simon, and Married … With Children.
James retired from acting in the mid 1990s, moving to the Boston area and focusing on his work as an abstract painter. He published a book of artwork and poems called Language of the Heart in 1994, and his memoir, Acting My Face, in 2014.
"If Anthony James was a bankable bad guy or an over-the-top funny bad guy in Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear (1991), Jimmy Anthony was a sweetheart," his obituary reads in part. "He was bookish. He would say that he was quite content to sit and read his way through books. He adored Greek tragedy and the music of Mikis Theodorakis as well as nineteenth- and early twentieth-century poets, writers and philosophers. He had a precise and insightful way of explaining Nietzsche, Camus, and Bonhoeffer as he could explain why a director chose a long shot over a close-up."
In lieu of flowers, donations in James' memory can be made to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital or to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
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