‘Blood Simple’ Actor M. Emmet Walsh Dies at 88

March 20, 2024

M. Emmet Walsh, one of the most prolific and highly regarded character actors in Hollywood history, died March 19 after suffering a heart attack while hospitalized for an undisclosed illness.

He was just three days shy of 89.

Born March 22, 1935, in Ogdensburg, New York, he initially studied business administration, but gravitated toward acting in his mid-thirties.

"I went down to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts after I finished college," he said in an interview from approximately 2016. "I had to figure out who I was, what I could do that no one else was doing."

His first — uncredited — appearances were in the iconic films Alice's Restaurant and Midnight Cowboy (both 1969), and he made a habit of popping up in future-famous productions.

Eminently castable as a sleazy heavy due to his size and the ease with while he could project sketchiness, he worked steadily for the next 55 years.

Highlights would include the films Little Big Man (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), What's Up, Doc? (1972), Serpico (1973), his breakthrough performance in Slap Shot (1977), Airport '77 (1977), a fondly remembered comic performancs in The Jerk (1979), Ordinary People (1980), Back Roads (1981), Reds (1981), Blade Runner (1982), Silkwood (1983), The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), Fletch (1985), Critters (1986), Back to School (1986), Raising Arizona (1987), A Time to Kill (1996), Romeo + Juliet (1996), My Best Friend's Wedding (1997), Christmas with the Kranks (2004), and Knives Out (2019).

But he was most associated with his work as deeply evil P.I. Loren Visser in the Coen Brothers' first film, 1984's Blood Simple. He won the very first Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Actor for that film, a rare leading role for a consummate character actor.

He was so ubiquitous in quality productions that critic Roger Ebert applied the Walsh-Stanton Rule — no film featuring Walsh or Harry Dean Stanton could be all bad

Along with his extensive film career, Wash was frequently on TV after his 1986 debut on The Doctors. Some of the classic shows on which he appeared: All in the Family (1971), Ironside (1971), Bonanza (1971), The Bob Newhart Show (1972), Baretta (1975 & 1976), Starsky and Hutch (1976 & 1978), Little House on the Prairie (1981), Tales from the Crypt (1989), Home Improvement (1994), The X-Files (1999), NYPD Blue (2000), Frasier (2001), Empire (2015) and his final TV gig, American Gigolo (2022).

He had one more film in production at the time of his death.

Walsh never married or had kids.

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