Michael Parks, longtime Hollywood mainstay and beloved character actor and singer, has passed away at the age of 77. The news was announced by filmmaker Kevin Smith, who took to his Instagram to share that “the best actor I’ve ever known” and his “cinematic muse,” had died. No cause of death was named.
Smith directed Parks in both his “Tusk” and “Red State,” having relished the longtime actor’s career since first seeing him in Robert Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Till Dawn.” Though Parks’ career stretched back to 1960, when he made his screen debut on TV’s “Zane Grey Theater,” in recent years, the supporting standout had enjoyed a revival at the hands of both Quentin Tarantino (who Smith deemed Parks’ “biggest fan”) and Smith, who continued to craft roles for the singular actor.
I hate to report that my cinematic muse #michaelparks has passed away. Michael was, and will likely forever remain, the best actor I’ve ever known. I wrote both #RedState and @tuskthemovie FOR Parks, I loved his acting so much. He was, hands-down, the most incredible thespian I ever had the pleasure to watch perform. And Parks brought out the absolute best in me every time he got near my set. From the moment I saw him steal the opening scene of #fromdusktildawn at an advance screening at the Sunset 5 back in the mid-90’s, I said to @samosier “Could you imagine what it must be like to work with a Yoda of acting like that guy? I gotta write for him one day.” It took me 15 years but my dream came true on Red State (for which Parks won Best Actor at the @sitgesfestival) and then again years later with #tusk. Only Michael Parks could have delivered the line “Is man indeed a walrus at heart?” and make it scary as fuck. My favorite memory of Michael is watching him and #johnnydepp act with and at each other, like a couple of dueling wizards, in their shared scene in Tusk. Parks was in Heaven that day, sharing the screen with another brilliant actor and creating an unforgettable performance. He elevated any flick or TV show he was in and elevated every director he ever acted for. I was so fucking blessed to have worked with this bonafide genius. But really, I was just lucky to have known him at all. My heart goes out to James (Michael’s son), Oriana (Michael’s wife), Quentin Tarantino (Michael’s biggest fan) and any movie or music lover who was ever dazzled by the talents of Michael Parks. Farewell, old friend. I’ll see you farther along… #KevinSmith #actor #genius #rip #walrusyes
Parks’ early career was marked by a series of roles on television series like “The Detectives,” “Perry Mason,” “77 Sunset Strip,” “Wagon Train,” “Then Came Bronson,” and “Channing.” He made the jump to film with Brian G. Hutton’s 1965 romantic drama, “Wild Seed,” which cast him as a mysterious, but good-hearted drifter.
Further roles followed on films as diverse as “The Last Hard Men,” “The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover,” and “Savannah Smiles.”
Despite a stacked resume that includes over 140 screen credits, Parks was reportedly blacklisted by the studio system after making comments about the content of “Then Came Bronson” and Hollywood in general, a fascinating and terrible period of time that was chronicled in a 2013 article on The Artifice.
As the article shares, “Once he made his view felt, both publically and privately, the wrath of Hollywood executives was, according to Parks, quiet yet vitriolic. The actor quickly went from being one of the most sought after actors in the industry to not finding acting work for four years after Bronson’s abrupt cancellation. Parks claimed: ‘If you don’t play the game, you don’t work.’ During the 70s and 80s, he could only muster sporadic appearances in independent films.”
Yet Parks persevered, and his career eventually hit a major upswing after years of creative and independent choices. In 1986, he directed himself as Josey Wales in the “The Return of Josey Wales,” his only directorial credit. Parks’ robust television career continued long into the ’80s and ’90s, most notably with a role on the “Dynasty” spinoff “The Colbys” and a second-season stint on “Twin Peaks.”
Parks was also an accomplished and lauded singer, who sang the theme song for the show “Long Lonesome Highway,” which became a #20 Billboard Hot 100 and #41 Hot Country Songs hit. Parks recorded a number of albums for MGM, including “Closing the Gap” and “Blue.”
In recent years, Parks enjoyed quite a resurgence, thanks to the attentions of directors like Smith, Tarantino, and Robert Rodriguez, who frequently cast him in beefy and compelling supporting roles. Parks appeared in a number of films from the trio of filmmakers, including Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” duo, the “Grindhouse” omnibus, “Death Proof,” “Planet Terror,” and “Django Unchained.” In 2012, he had a small but crucial role in Best Picture winner “Argo.”
Parks’ upcoming slate includes a number of new offerings, from Orson Oblowitz’s crime drama “The Queen of Hollywood Blvd.” and a starring role in the animated short “Other Fish.”
Parks is survived by his son James and his wife Oriana.