M. Emmet Walsh, prolific character actor of ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Blood Simple’, dies at 88

M. Emmet Walsh arrives at the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California.
M. Emmet Walsh arrives at the 2014 Film Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, California. Copyright Credit: AP Photo
Copyright Credit: AP Photo
By Anca Ulea with AP
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The US actor was in more than 100 films, including 1982 sci-fi classic ‘Blade Runner’ and 2019’s breakout murder mystery ‘Knives Out.’


M. Emmet Walsh, a US character actor whose filmography includes classics like Blood Simple and Blade Runner, has died at age 88, his manager confirmed on Wednesday (20 March).

His longtime manager Sandy Joseph said Walsh died from cardiac arrest on Tuesday at a hospital in St. Albans, Vermont, his home state.

Widely beloved by critics and filmgoers alike, M. Emmet Walsh received high praise from famed critic Roger Ebert, who once said that “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.”

Walsh was often the most memorable part of any movie he starred in, playing good old boys with bad intentions – like one of his rare leading roles as a crooked Texas private detective in the Coen brothers’ first film, the 1984 neo-noir Blood Simple.

Joel and Ethan Coen said they wrote the part for Walsh, who went on to win the first Film Independent Spirit Award for best male lead for the role.

Walsh played a crazed sniper in the 1979 Steve Martin comedy The Jerk and a prostate-examining doctor in the 1985 Chevy Chase film Fletch.

In 1982’s Blade Runner, Walsh plays a shrewd police captain who sets retired cop Harrison Ford on a hunt for cyborgs. He said the film was gruelling and difficult to make with perfectionist director Ridley Scott.

A memorable character actor

Born Michael Emmet Walsh in the northernmost corner of the United States, Walsh often played characters with a southern drawl.

His career in film began late in life, after a long run in theatre productions, with his first appearance on screen in 1969. He began getting bigger roles nearly a decade later, by which time he was in his 40s.

His breakout role came in 1978, when he played Dustin Hoffman’s boorish parole officer in Straight Time.

That role attracted the attention of Joel and Ethan Coen in 1982, when the brothers were still aspiring filmmakers in Austin, Texas.

“My agent called with a script written by some kids for a low-budget movie,” Walsh told The Guardian in 2017. “It was a Sydney Greenstreet kind of role, with a Panama suit and the hat. I thought it was kinda fun and interesting. They were 100 miles away in Austin, so I went down there early one day before shooting (the film Silkwood with Meryl Streep, in Dallas).”

Walsh said the Coens didn’t even have enough money left to fly him to New York for the premiere, but that he was impressed with the quality of work the first-time filmmakers produced.

“I saw it three or four days later when it opened in LA and was like, ‘Wow!’ Suddenly my price went up five times. I was the guy everybody wanted.”

Walsh worked into his late 80s, making recent appearances on the TV series “The Righteous Gemstones” and “American Gigolo.”

He also starred in director Rian Johnson’s 2019 family murder mystery Knives Out, and Mario Van Peeble’s Western Outlaw Posse, which came out this year.

Johnson paid tribute to Walsh on social media after news of his death broke: Emmet came to set with 2 things: a copy of his credits, which was a small-type single spaced double column list of modern classics that filled a whole page, & two-dollar bills which he passed out to the entire crew. ‘Don’t spend it and you’ll never be broke.’ Absolute legend.”

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