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Mitchell Ryan, the square-jawed character actor who played a heroin-smuggling retired general in the first Lethal Weapon movie, an ex-con on Dark Shadows and an obnoxious father on Dharma & Greg, has died. He was 88.
Ryan died Friday of congestive heart failure at his home in Los Angeles, his stepdaughter Denise Freed told The Hollywood Reporter.
Ryan was perhaps at his best as Shorty Austin, a ranch hand who gets mixed up with the wrong crowd, in the Lee Marvin-Jack Palance Western Monte Walsh (1970), directed by William Fraker from a novel by Jack Schaefer (Shane).
Ryan had a big year in 1973, when he appeared opposite Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter and Magnum Force — in the latter as a burned-out motorcycle patrolman — with Robert Mitchum in Peter Yates’ The Friends of Eddie Coyle and as a hippie-hating detective alongside Robert Blake in Electra Glide in Blue.
Ryan also portrayed the head of a sanitarium and leader of a Druid-like cult in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Hugh Hefner in Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story (1981) and Minnie Driver’s father in Grosse Pointe Blank (1997).
As Gen. Peter McAllister, Ryan gets trapped in an overturned car and goes up in a ball of flames on Hollywood Boulevard in Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon (1987), done in by detectives Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) in their first cinematic partnership.
Later, Ryan played it for laughs on about 120 episodes of the 1997-2002 ABC sitcom Dharma & Greg as Edward Montgomery, the rich, boozy father of Greg (Thomas Gibson) and proud Notre Dame graduate who frequently tussles with Dharma’s hippie dad (Alan Rachins).
For three years, Ryan appeared as ex-con Burke Devlin on Dark Shadows before being fired in 1966. “I was so drunk that year, I barely remember what it was about,” he told TV Guide in 1976. (He said he eventually gave up booze.)
On Facebook, his Dark Shadows co-star Kathryn Leigh Scott wrote that Ryan “was a great gift in my life. I cherish my warm memories of his beautiful soul. I’m heartbroken.” He played Burke Devlin on the soap, and she was Maggie Evans.
He later appeared on other daytime serials including All My Children, Santa Barbara and General Hospital.
In a 2018 interview, Ryan said he almost landed the role of Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
“I was pretty well considered until they ran across that incredible British actor … Patrick Stewart,” he said. “I don’t know how close I came, but I was told [at the time] I was really being considered and it was looking good.”
He did appear on the series in 1989 as the estranged father of Cmdr. William Riker (Jonathan Frakes).
“We are deeply saddened to say goodbye to Mitch, who was an active and proud member of Screen Actors Guild for decades,” said SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland in a statement on Sunday. “He inspired many to union service and loved the craft of acting, helping to create many of the performer programs at the then-Screen Actors Guild Foundation. We are grateful and better as a union for his dedication.”
Ryan was born in Cincinnati on Jan. 11, 1934, and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. His father was a novelty salesman and his mother a writer.
After a stint in the U.S. Navy, where he served in the special services entertainment unit during the Korean War, Ryan became convinced that acting was for him after he saw Warren Oates star in a 1953 production of Dark of the Moon in Louisville.
“If you are [young] and have no feelings of your own, the theater has a fatal attraction,” he told TV Guide. “I became totally involved, worked for nothing, 20 hours a day. Playing at being somebody else took me out of myself and gave the illusion of meaning and worth.”
He moved to New York and worked on the stage and in television, then made his film debut in Thunder Road (1958), starring Mitchum.
“I had a small scene with Mitchum, who was just short of being a god and at the height of his popularity,” Ryan recalled. “He stood by the camera joking with the crew. At last I heard my scene called, at which point Mitchum walked over to me, was silent for a second and then said, ‘Remember, I’m Big Mitch and you’re Little Mitch.’ He looked grim, then burst out laughing and said, ‘Let ‘s do this fucking thing.’ “
Ryan appeared on such TV shows as Naked City and The Defenders and joined Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, then made it to Broadway in 1966 as one of the bad guys who terrorize a blind woman (Lee Remick) in the thriller Wait Until Dark, directed by Arthur Penn.
He noted that in Monte Walsh, his character was billed as the “second best bronc rider in the West.” Ryan, however, had never ridden a horse before and thus earned the nickname “The Lincoln Center Kid” on the set.
In the 1970s, Ryan starred in three short-lived TV series: Chase, a cop show co-created by Stephen J. Cannell; Executive Suite, based on the 1954 William Holden movie; and Having Babies, a hospital drama.
His film credits also include Two-Minute Warning (1976), Midway (1976), Hot Shots! Part Deux (1993), Speechless (1994), Judge Dredd (1995), Liar Liar (1997) and The Devil’s Own (1997).
In addition to his stepdaughter, survivors include his wife, Barbara; grandchildren Ashley, Jacqueline, Olivia, Kaila and Noah; daughter-in-law Elizabeth; and sister-in-law Mary.
He published a memoir, Fall of a Sparrow, in 2021.
March 6, 12:38 p.m.: Updated with SAG-AFTRA statement.
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