George Dickerson, who played police detective John Williams in David Lynch’s bizarre crime drama Blue Velvet, has died, his son, Finnish film writer-director Dome Karukoski, announced on Facebook. He was 81.
Dickerson, who also had a recurring role as Police Commander Swanson in the first season of the acclaimed 1980s NBC cop drama Hill Street Blues, died Jan. 10 after a long illness, Karukoski said. Dickerson had been living in New York.
Karukoski’s Heart of a Lion played at the recent Palm Springs International Film festival, and another of his features, The Grump, screened at the Toronto Film Festival in September.
At the start of Blue Velvet (1986), college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) finds a severed human ear in a field and takes it to Dickerson’s character, putting the story in motion. Laura Dern plays the detective’s high school daughter who helps the curious Beaumont try to figure out where the ear came from.
“I am proud to have been in it,” Dickerson said in a 2008 interview with Dan Schneider. “My biggest regret is that I lost at least a third of my role in the editing room, the whole central arc of my character’s actions. David was forced to cut the film below two hours, and a lot of wonderful scenes got lost.”
Before turning to acting, Dickerson worked as a magazine writer, poet, editor and playwright; was a United Nations diplomat in Lebanon; and served as a speechwriter for U.S. Congressman Robert Steele. One of his best friends was singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, whom he met at comparative literature class at Columbia University.
Beset with writer’s block, Dickerson took acting classes and landed work in off-Broadway plays. That led to a role as a Mafia bad guy from New Orleans on the CBS soap Search for Tomorrow, but his character was killed off. He then moved to Hollywood and guest-starred in an October 1979 episode on the NBC spy series A Man Called Sloane, starring Robert Conrad.
Dickerson said his acting career took off after Hill Street Blues. “My friends, who knew and loved my writing, hated my becoming an actor,” he told Schneider.
Dickerson also appeared in the films Psycho II (1983), No Mercy (1986), Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987) and A Stranger in the Kingdom (1999); played General William Tecumseh Sherman in the 1991 telefilm Son of the Morning Star; and showed up in the TV series The Incredible Hulk, Little House on the Prairie, Miami Vice, Hunter, Three’s Company, Father Murphy, Sledge Hammer! and L.A. Law.