Charles Napier (actor)

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Charles Napier
Napier in April 2008
Born (1936-04-12)April 12, 1936
Mt. Union, Kentucky, U.S.
Died October 5, 2011(2011-10-05) (aged 75)
Bakersfield, California, U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Resting place Bakersfield National Cemetery
Nationality American
Alma mater Western Kentucky University
Occupation Actor, Singer
Years active 1968–2011
Spouse(s) Dee Napier (?-2011); (his death)
Children 3
Parent(s) Linus Pitts Napier,
Sara Lena (nee Loafman) Napier

Charles Lewis Napier (April 12, 1936 – October 5, 2011) was a prolific American actor, who after his film debut mainly worked in supporting roles. Napier's strong voice, steely gaze and distinctive broad jutting chin made him immediately convincing as the cop or military officer he often played.

After leaving his tiny Kentucky town to serve in the army, he graduated college and worked as a sports coach and art teacher before settling on acting as a career. Following some lean years during which he was supported by parts in Russ Meyer's films, Napier established himself in character roles and worked steadily for the next 35 years. He was described as one of the most recognizable faces that people could not put a name to (partly due to his wide grinning persona in TV advertisements). Acclaimed director Jonathan Demme considered Napier to be "vastly underrated".

Early life

Napier was born in Mt. Union,[1] Kentucky, the son of Sara Lena (née Loafman; 1897–1974) and Linus Pitts Napier (1888–1991).[2] After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1954, serving with the 11th Airborne Division and rising to the rank of sergeant.

After his service, he attended Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, graduating in 1961 with a major in art and minor in physical education. He wanted to be a basketball coach and his first job was as an assistant coach at his old high school. Soon after, he gave up coaching, eventually taking jobs with a bridge company and an advertising agency before moving to Clearwater, Florida to teach art at JFK Junior High School.

In 1964, he returned to attend graduate school at Western Kentucky where he was encouraged to pursue acting by instructor D. Russell Miller. Following some success in the local Alley Playhouse, Napier moved back to Florida where he continued to teach as well as act in community theater, eventually moving into Clearwater's Little Theatre as its live-in caretaker. During this time he also pursued another passion – painting.[1]


After a bruising spell in New York trying to obtain a foothold in the industry, Napier moved to California intent on taking any kind of acting job he could get. He managed to acquire an agent and a union card (for a bit part in Mission: Impossible). His movie debut came about by accident. A girlfriend took Napier along as informal bodyguard when she went to audition for Russ Meyer, who cast Napier as the male lead in Cherry, Harry & Raquel!. In addition to acting and helping with the cameras when setting up shots, he did stunts, make up and driving on the film. Napier found Meyer films both fulfilling and exhausting; they were to be instrumental in his later career. After the low budget Moonfire, he worked as a journalist and photographer for Overdrive magazine for a few years; a strike in sent him back to Hollywood in 1975 where, at age 39, he was reduced to living in his car in the parking lot of Meyer's office with no money, work or agent and thinking that he was finished. Out of the blue he was summoned to Universal Studios to meet Alfred Hitchcock (who had just seen a print of Supervixens) and Napier was given a one-year contract.[1]

Napier became a prolific character actor, appearing regularly in the top TV series of the time, and a number of pilots. In 1977, he was cast as frontier scout Luther Sprague in the six-episode NBC western television series, The Oregon Trail. He appeared in two episodes of the 1980s hit TV series The A-Team once as Col. Briggs. He also co-starred in a couple of The Rockford Files episodes, and played Hammer, Greg Evigan's character's nemesis, in the short-lived series B.J. and the Bear in the 1970s. Napier as Wolfson Lucas was teamed with Rod Taylor again for the short lived series Outlaws. He is well known among Star Trek fans for appearing on both Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The Way to Eden" as musically inclined space hippie Adam, and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Little Green Men" as General Denning. He also appeared in the pilot episode of Knight Rider in 1982.[3]

The director of Citizen's Band, Jonathan Demme, was laudatory about Napier's abilities, and went on to cast him in several films including The Silence of the Lambs and, in what was Napier's favourite role of his career, a judge in Philadelphia. Demme said that he found it surprising that Napier had never been recognised as a great American actor. For comedy The Blues Brothers, he created a memorable character in the apoplectic Tucker McElroy, lead singer of "The Good Ol' Boys.[4]

Napier's no-nonsense onscreen persona was deployed in many advertisements. His ability to vocally convey a powerful or commanding presence led to a great deal of voiceover work, including some of the Hulk's growls on 1970s television series The Incredible Hulk, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, The Critic, Men in Black: The Series and Squidbillies. He also provided several guest voices for episodes of The Simpsons.[3]

He had a small role during the sixth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2008 as a barber who assaults and drives Larry David from his shop after David offends him. Napier appeared in the 2009 horror film Murder World alongside Scout Taylor-Compton. His last film role was in the 2009 comedy The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard opposite Jeremy Piven and James Brolin. Prior to his death in October of 2011, Napier published a book about his life and experiences in Hollywood, titled "Square Jaw and Big Heart", with Dante W. Renzulli co-author. The publisher of the book is BearManor Media of Albany, Georgia (ISBN 978-1-59393-624-2).[3][4]


Napier died on October 5, 2011, after collapsing the previous day.[5] He was 75 years old. The exact cause of death was not released, but Napier had been treated for thrombus in his legs in May 2010.[6] Napier is survived by his second wife, Dee, and their young children, Hunter and Meghan, as well as by his son, Chuck, from a previous marriage, which had ended in divorce.[1]

Selected filmography

TV appearances

The Ateam 1983 Labor pains Burt Cross


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "The Official Charles Napier Website". Illumina Productions. Retrieved 10 October 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Charles Napier profile at Film
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Charles Napier: Overnight success at 50 Roger Ebert June 30, 1985, Retrieved September 26, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 Guardian 28 October 2011 Charles Napier obituary
  5. New York Times obituary
  6. Notice of Napier's death in The Hollywood Reporter
  • Paul, Louis (2008). "Charles Napier". Tales From the Cult Film Trenches; Interviews with 36 Actors from Horror, Science Fiction and Exploitation Cinema. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. pp. 180–185. ISBN 978-0-7864-2994-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links