Blade Runner & Blood Simple Star, M. Emmet Walsh, Dead at 88! Hollywood Mourns!

Character actor M. Emmet Walsh, known for his distinctive features and unsettling aura in films such as “Blood Simple” and “Blade Runner,” has passed away at the age of 88, announced his manager on Wednesday.

Walsh succumbed to cardiac arrest on Tuesday in a hospital situated in St. Albans, Vt., informed his longtime manager, Sandy Joseph.

With his unmistakable, heavyset features, Walsh was often cast as seemingly harmless characters with hidden malicious agendas, such as his infrequent leading role of a corrupt Texas private investigator in the 1984 neo-noir film “Blood Simple,” the debut film of the Coen brothers.

The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, confessed that they created the role specifically for Walsh, who subsequently bagged the inaugural Film Independent Spirit Award for male lead actor for his performance.

In a 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Walsh, referring to his character-actor status, said, “There are merely nine or ten of us who do what I do. It’s a process of getting older, becoming frail and bald, and then they begin to hire you. It’s not necessarily about your talent. They assume if you’ve managed to stick around, you must have some skill.”

Rob Schneider, Walsh’s director and co-star in the 2007 film “Big Stan,” paid tribute to his departed friend on X (previously known as Twitter), describing him as “one of the finest actors and human beings” he had ever come across.

He fondly recalled Walsh’s captivating stories and his generosity in sharing the wisdom and acting expertise he had amassed from his career spanning 119 movies, Schneider tweeted.

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Film critics and enthusiasts greatly appreciated the scenes featuring Walsh.

As film critic Roger Ebert once remarked, “No movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be completely devoid of merit.”

Walsh portrayed a deranged sniper in the 1979 Steve Martin comedy “The Jerk” and a doctor performing a prostate exam in the 1985 Chevy Chase film “Fletch.”

In the 1982’s dystopian film “Blade Runner,” Walsh, under the meticulous direction of Ridley Scott, played a stern police captain who coaxes Harrison Ford out of retirement to hunt down cyborgs.

Despite being born as Michael Emmet Walsh and often playing characters with a Southern twang, he hailed from the furthest north of America.

Walsh grew up near Lake Champlain in Swanton, Vt., which is just a few miles away from the U.S.-Canadian border. His family, including his grandfather, father, and brother, were customs officers.

After graduating from a small local school with a class of 13 students, Walsh pursued higher studies at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., and the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

For a decade, he was exclusively a stage actor, working in summer stock and repertory companies.

Walsh began appearing in films in 1969 with a small role in “Alice’s Restaurant.” However, it wasn’t until he was in his 40s, almost a decade later, that he began landing significant roles. His big break came with the 1978 film “Straight Time,” where he played Dustin Hoffman’s arrogant, offensive parole officer.

While filming “Silkwood” with Meryl Streep in Dallas in the fall of 1982, Walsh received an offer for “Blood Simple” from the Coen brothers, who were aspiring filmmakers and had admired his performance in “Straight Time.”

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Walsh recalled in a 2017 interview with The Guardian, “My agent handed me a script penned by some youngsters for a low-budget film. It was a Sydney Greenstreet-esque role, complete with a Panama suit and hat. I found it intriguing and fun. They were located 100 miles away in Austin, so I decided to visit them one day before the shoot.”

Walsh was taken aback by the quality of work produced by the first-time filmmakers, despite the budget constraints that prevented them from flying him to New York for the premiere.

“I watched it a few days later when it premiered in L.A., and I was, like: ‘Wow!’” he recounted. “Suddenly, my demand and price increased fivefold. I was the actor everyone wanted.”

In the film, he portrayed Loren Visser, a detective who was hired to follow a man’s wife and later conspired to murder her and her lover.

As the narrator of the film, Visser’s opening monologue, delivered in a Texas accent, featured some of Walsh’s most iconic lines.

“In Russia, they have a system where everyone supports everyone else. That’s the idea, at least,” Visser remarks. “But what I am familiar with is Texas. And here, you’re all by yourself.”

Walsh continued to work well into his late 80s, with recent roles in TV series such as “The Righteous Gemstones” and “American Gigolo.”

His filmography of over 100 films includes director Rian Johnson’s 2019 family murder mystery “Knives Out” and director Mario Van Peebles’ western “Outlaw Posse,” which was released this year.

In a 1989 interview with The Times, Walsh, then 53, said, “It’s astonishing how I keep getting cast as the villain. I’m still hoping to play a role with a hairpiece. And they never cast me as Jamie Lee Curtis’ love interest.”

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This report includes contributions from the staff of Los Angeles Times. Dalton is an entertainment reporter for the Associated Press.

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