The ghost of Powers Boothe is reading Lawrence Yee’s Variety obit and quietly seething. For Yee’s opening sentence describes Boothe as “a character actor.” Not “the renowned, ruggedly handsome, Emmy Award-winning actor known for his gruff, steely machismo” but “a” character actor. What Yee means is that Boothe’s peak period in the early to mid ’80s doesn’t mean that much, at least to him. But it does, or did, to those who were around and alert during the early Reagan years.
When Tom Cruise dies do you think Variety will describe him as “an” actor? The indignity! For once upon a time Powers Boothe was a brand, a force and a presence that was valued by top-rank directors.
His performance as demonic cult leader Jim Jones in Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones was easily the best thing Boothe ever did. Boothe won an Emmy for best lead actor in a limited series. The four-hour, two-part TV movie aired on CBS in April 1980. I haven’t rewatched it since but I would right now if it was streaming, but it’s only on DVD.
Boothe’s movie heyday boiled down to three films that followed Guyana Tragedy — Walter Hill‘s Southern Comfort (’81), John Milius‘s Red Dawn (’84) and John Boorman‘s The Emerald Forest (’85). For a while it seemed as if the Texas-born, conservative-leaning actor might become an Eastwood-like figure. Or at least a regular leading guy.
Alas, it didn’t happen. By the late ’80s Boothe had become “a” character actor, albeit well-respected and gainfully employed (mostly on TV and cable) for the rest of his days.
I interviewed Boothe in ’81 during a Southern Comfort junket at the Plaza Hotel. I loved his deep purring drawl. His money quote was “I don’t play by the rules.”
Boothe’s last attention-catching role in a theatrical feature was Alexander Haig in Oliver Stone‘s Nixon (’95).
Boothe mostly appeared in pulp TV shows and genre stuff after that. Senator Roark in Sin City and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. He played Gideon Malick in The Avengers, although I honestly don’t remember the character or Boothe’s performance. His most distinguished cable performance, I suppose. was as a saloon proprietor on HBO’s Deadwood. He also played the U.S. vice-president on 24.
Yee’s obit says Boothe died in his sleep Sunday morning of “natural causes” — a euphemism that means his family doesn’t want to say what happened.