M. Emmet Walsh, Instantly Recognizable Character Actor from ‘Blood Simple’ and ‘Blade Runner,’ Dead at 88

M. Emmet Walsh is dead at the age of 88, his manager Sandy Joseph told IndieWire. The grizzled character actor appeared in Hollywood movies across 55 years and was one of the most recognizable “oh yeah, that guy!” performers in the industry. Even just by saying “grizzled character actor” you probably pictured him, even if you didn’t know his name.

Walsh had bit parts in “Midnight Cowboy,” “Little Big Man,” “Serpico,” “What’s Up, Doc?” and “The Gambler” at the start of his career. But it’s two films from the early 1980s that put him on the map and truly lodged him in the consciousness of cinephiles: “Blade Runner” and “Blood Simple.” In Ridley Scott’s film he played Capt. Bryant, who sends Harrison Ford’s Decker on his quest to terminate the escaped, murderous replicants. Or “retire” them, rather. That’s the kind of euphemism Walsh, in his rumpled way, could give particular edge.

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Then there’s “Blood Simple,” where Walsh played 10-gallon-hatted private detective Loren Visser, who becomes more like a bounty hunter as the film goes on. Take a first look at him and he’s not much to speak of… by the end, he’s the face of relentlessness itself. Even in a comedy such as “Christmas with the Kranks” he proves an especially daunting foil to Tim Allen. In a movie already stacked with character actors like Austin Pendleton, Tom Poston, and Cheech Marin, Walsh stands out.

That was Walsh. Born in Ogdensburg, New York in 1935 but raised in Vermont — that New England thwang of his (can’t call it a twang) doubling for so many other accents throughout his career — he studied business at Clarkson University and seemed to stumble into acting by accident. His characters are often people you underestimate, then prove shockingly formidable.

Lawmen and other blue collar professions were typically those for Walsh to inhabit. He seemed to embody “Middle America” in a way, even if by his presence he made the idea of Middle America more interesting. The photo that leads this article? From a movie called “Albino Alligator.” And even though the title is metaphorical in the case of that crime thriller, you pretty much expect M. Emmet Walsh to show up if you’re watching a movie called “Albino Alligator.”

Another thing about that photo. That’s from a movie that’s 28 years old. Yes, he’s one of these actors who aged young and stayed looking pretty much the same age forever. It’s not a surprise that he was an actor that, even 12 years ago, Entertainment Weekly said in a blurb was “the late M. Emmet Walsh.” Always do your due diligence, journalistically, ye magazine writers, of course.

But if there’s any actor who felt like he could have died years before, it was him. And yet! His last film, Mario Van Peebles’ “Outlaw Posse” was released just on March 1. Take a look at him in that film and tell me he looked vastly older than in “Albino Alligator.” There was something timeless about Walsh: He could have died ages ago, or he might have lived forever.

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