Movie & TV Muscleman William Smith Dies @ 88

William Smith had a longer career in movies than George Burns or Olivia de Havilland, but while he was never a household name like they were, he was certainly a household face — and figure.

Mr. Smith as he appeared in 2011 (Image by Matthew Rettenmund)
Bill in his beefcake days, around 1961
On Kolchak: The Night Stalker in 1974 (Image via video still)

Born on a ranch in Columbia, Missouri, on March 24, 1933, Smith enlisted in the Air Force (he was a Korean War veteran) and took up boxing, all the while building up his physique to such epic proportions he would later be a Muscle Beach Venice Bodybuilding Hall of Fame inductee.

Around this time, he also reguarly shucked (most of) his clothes for pay as an in-demand physique model, which directly led to a second wind as an actor.

Yes, a second wind — he had previously found luck as an extra in a handful of Golden Age of Hollywood films that did not offer credit, but that put him in the same space as such legends as Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and Jennifer Jones. Until Monday, when he died at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, of undisclosed causes at 88, he was likely the final surviving cast member of The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), The Song of Bernadette (1943) and Going My Way (1944), Gilda (1946), and was a rare survivor of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and several others.

As a kid (right) in The Ghost of Frankenstein (Image via MGM)

Later, muscled up and an expert in several foreign languages, Smith was signed to MGM, rarely turning down — or lacking — work on TV or in films.

Smith's first credited TV role was on an installment of Kraft Theatre in 1954, and he made his credited movie debut in The Mating Game (1959).

Things escalated after his series-regular role on TV's The Asphalt Jungle (1961), and went on to include hundreds of guest spots on nearly every popular show from the '50s through his last TV gig, on a 1999 episode of Nash Bridges.

Among his most memorable work were his series-regular performances on Zero One (1962-1965) and especially Laredo (1965-1967); his embodiment of Adonis to Zsa Zsa Gabor's Minerva on an episode of Batman (1968); his incredible on-screen brawls in Darker Than Amber (1970) with Rod Taylor and Any Which Way You Can (1980) with Clint Eastwood; bad-guy appearances in cult films like Piranha (1972), Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973), Black Samson (1974), Boss N*gger (1974) and Scorchy (1976); and an unforgettable turn as the title character's father in Conan the Barbarian (1982) opposite fellow muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As Conan's dad (Image via Universal)

He said in a recent interview of the filming of Conan, "I was attacked by the war dogs in the film Conan the Barbarian. Even though I was heavily padded, I could feel the Rottweillers starting to bite down through the padding. Once the dogs got started, they didn’t want to stop. It wasn’t easy for the trainers to call them off."

But among Smith's many diverse roles — he was even TV's last Marlboro Man in the late '60s — he is probably most identified as baddie Falconetti, the eyepatch-sporting villain of Rich Man, Poor Man (1976) and Rich Man, Poor Man: Book II (1976 & 1977).

Maniac Falconetti was Smith's favorite part. (Image via ABC)

Though ubiquitous on TV, Smith worked more in low-budget action thrillers from the '80s on, making his last appearance — according to IMDb — in the star-studded comedy Irresistible (2020).

Smith is survived by his wife of over 30 years and two adult children.

1 Response

  1. What devastating news about the passing of William Smith. He was a true icon in the world of movies and television, captivating audiences with his impressive physique and undeniable talent. From his memorable roles in action-packed films to his captivating performances on the small screen, Smith’s presence was always larger than life. His contributions to the entertainment industry will never be forgotten. May he rest in peace, leaving behind a remarkable legacy that will continue to inspire generations to come. Farewell, dear William Smith. CinemaHDV2.

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