Character Actor Brought an 'Unsettling Presence' to Film

M. Emmet Walsh, of 'Blade Runner' and 'Blood Simple' fame, is dead at age 88
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 21, 2024 9:50 AM CDT
Actor M. Emmet Walsh Dead at 88: 'Absolute Legend'
M. Emmet Walsh arrives at the Film Independent Spirit Awards on March 1, 2014, in Santa Monica, California.   (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP, File)

M. Emmet Walsh, the character actor who brought his unmistakable face and unsettling presence to films including Blood Simple and Blade Runner, has died at age 88, his manager said Wednesday. Walsh died from cardiac arrest on Tuesday at a hospital in St. Albans, Vermont, said longtime manager Sandy Joseph, per the AP. The ham-faced, heavyset Walsh often played good old boys with bad intentions, as he did in one of his rare leading roles as a crooked Texas private detective in the Coen brothers' first film, the 1984 neo-noir Blood Simple.

  • Early life: Born Michael Emmet Walsh, the actor's characters led people to believe he was from the South, but he could hardly have been from any further north. Walsh was raised on Lake Champlain in Swanton, Vermont, just a few miles from the US-Canadian border. He attended Clarkson University, as well as the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. He acted exclusively on the stage, with no intention of doing otherwise, for a decade, working in summer stock and repertory companies.
  • Shift to the big screen: Walsh started making film appearances in 1969 with a bit role in Alice's Restaurant, but he didn't start playing prominent roles until nearly a decade after, when he was in his 40s, getting his breakthrough with 1978's Straight Time, in which he played Dustin Hoffman's smug, boorish parole officer. Walsh went on to play a crazed sniper in the 1979 Steve Martin comedy The Jerk and a prostate-examining doctor in the 1985 Chevy Chase vehicle Fletch.
  • Blood Simple breakout: Walsh was shooting Silkwood with Meryl Streep in 1982 when he got the offer for Blood Simple from the Coen brothers, then-aspiring filmmakers who'd seen and loved him in Straight Time. Joel and Ethan Coen said they wrote the part for Walsh, who would win the first Film Independent Spirit Award for best male lead for the role.
  • Legacy: His more than 100 film credits included director Rian Johnson's 2019 Knives Out, and Mario Van Peebles' Outlaw Posse, released this year. Walsh was still working into his late 80s, making recent appearances on The Righteous Gemstones and American Gigolo.
  • Tribute: Johnson was among those paying tribute to Walsh. "Absolute legend," he tweeted.
(More obituary stories.)

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