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Powers Boothe: 1948-2017

Award-winning character actor Powers Boothe has passed away at the age of 68. According to a representative, he died in his sleep of natural causes on the morning of May 14 in Los Angeles. Initially, there was some question when his passing was first reported as to whether the news was true or merely some kind of ghastly Internet rumor. The confusion and murkiness of the information surrounding his passing was more than a little ironic considering the number of no-nonsense, steely-eyed and decided determined characters that he played over the years on both the big and small screens.

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Powers Allen Boothe, the youngest of three boys, was born on July 1, 1948, on a farm in the town of Snyder, Texas. After graduating from Southwest Texas State University, he joined the rep company of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he appeared in such works ad “Henry IV, Part 2” and “Troilus and Cressida” and he later made his New York stage debut in a 1974 production of “Richard III.” His first appearance on Broadway came via a starring role in the one-act play “Lone Star” in 1979. Boothe’s first screen appearance came in a brief part in the Oscar-winning comedy-drama “The Goodbye Girl” (1977) and he turned in a brief but memorable turn as a handkerchief salesman in the controversial thriller “Cruising.” 

His big break came on television when he was cast as messianic cult leader Jim Jones in the made-for-TV movie “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones” (1980). He was nominated for an Emmy for Best Actor for the role and wound up winning. At the time of the ceremony, however, the Screen Actors Guild was on strike and he was the only actor who chose to cross the picket lines in order to attend the ceremony. As a result, when he gave his acceptance speech, he remarked “This may be either the bravest moment of my career or the dumbest.” The entire reference would later be referenced in James L. Brooks Hollywood satire “I’ll Do Anything” (1994) in a flashback sequence in which Nick Nolte plays a nominated actor who stayed home and watches on TV as Boothe claims the prize.

The next year, Boothe scored his first major film role in “Southern Comfort,” when he was hired by Walter Hill to play one of a group of National Guardsmen spending a weekend in the Louisiana swamps who are picked off by one by one by the local Cajun population, emulating America’s experience fighting the Vietnam War. He played a key supporting role as a downed fighter pilot in “Red Dawn” (1984), John Milius’ controversial speculative war film about a Soviet invasion of the U.S.A. and played Raymond Chandler’s famous detective character Philip Marlowe in the cable TV series “Philip Marlowe, Private Eye, which ran at irregular intervals between 1983 and 1986. In 1985, he had one of his very best roles of his entire career in “The Emerald Forest” (1985), John Boorman’s stunning drama, based on a true story, in which he played an American engineer who spends ten years searching for his young son after he is abducted by a tribe of Indians living in the Amazon rainforest. He then went back to Walter Hill to co-star as the villain in Hill’s underrated modern-day Western “Extreme Prejudice” (1987).

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In the 90s, Boothe divided his time between television and films. On the small screen, he appeared in such made-for-TV films as “By Dawn’s Early Light” (1990); “Family of Spies” (1990), where he played spy John A. Walker Jr.; “Wild Card” (1992); “Marked for Murder” (1993); “Web of Deception” (1994); “True Women” (1997) and “Joan of Arc” (1999). On the big screen, he played memorable villains in such films as “Rapid Fire” (1992), the hit Western “Tombstone” (1993) and the cheerfully goofy “Die Hard” knockoff “Sudden Death” (1995). For director Oliver Stone, he played Alexander Haig in the controversial docudrama “Nixon” (1995) and then played the Sheriff of a corrupt Arizona town in the darkly comic drama “U-Turn” (1997).

Through the remaining years of his career, Boothe undertook a number of projects that helped to introduce him to younger audiences. He played the cheerfully sleazy and corrupt Senator Roark in Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s hit film “Sin City” (2005), a role he would essay again in “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” (2014). On television, he was part of the great ensemble that made up the Western “Deadwood” (2004-2006), portrayed Vice President (and later President) Noah Daniels on a couple of seasons of “24” and had a recurring role as Connie Britton’s father on the music-based soap opera “Nashville.” He played a military man in the crazy comedy “MacGruber” (2010) and in the blockbuster comic book adaptation “The Avengers” (2012), a role he would later reprise in a recurring role on the television series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” 

Boothe was survived by his wife, Pam, whom he married in 1969, and his two children, Parisse and Preston. His representative stated that he will be buried in a private ceremony in Texas with a possible memorial celebration to be held at a later time. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which gives assistance to veterans and first responders in need.

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