M. Emmet Walsh, known for comedic villain roles, dies at 88

 March 21, 2024

M. Emmet Walsh, a veteran actor who excelled in comedic villain supporting roles, died Tuesday from a heart attack at age 88, his manager Sandy Joseph confirmed. 

Walsh had more than 200 television and movie parts over more than 50 years, the Washington Post noted.

His ability to move a plot forward while remaining a supporting figure made him one of the most sought-after character actors over that time period.

Some of his most prominent roles were in Blood Simple, Blade Runner, My Best Friend's Wedding, The Jerk, and Ordinary People. 

Character actor

More recently, he appeared in Rain Johnson's Knives Out as a security guard, where he managed to steal all of his scenes.

On television, he appeared in Frasier, The X-Files and NYPD Blue, and did voiceovers in the documentaries The Civil War and Baseball by Ken Burns.

Walsh considered his supporting role position an advantage in Hollywood.

“It’s a good life being a character actor,” he told the Orange County Register. “I’ve been around stardom. I’ve been around Redford and Hoffman, and it’s scary. That drive for stardom is like the greyhounds chasing the mechanical rabbit. By the time he catches him, he’s too tired to run anymore, and you’ve got to shoot him.”

In contrast, Walsh said he was able to make a good living without having to carry a film or show.

Breaking in

Walsh was not a promising student in college and decided to study drama to avoid an office job.

He joined the Hollywood Softball League to make connections, but it took over a decade of local theater, off-Broadway and summer stock to break in with roles in movies like Midnight Cowboy, Alice’s Restaurant, Little Big Man, What’s Up, Doc?, Serpico and Bound for Glory.

He once said about his job as an actor, “I approach each job thinking it might be my last, so it better be the best work possible. I want to be remembered as a working actor. I’m being paid for what I’d do for nothing.”

He remained a voracious actor in his later years, working in regional theater and even in London.

He was awarded the Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead for Blood Simple in 1986 and the 2018 Carney Life Achievement Award.

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