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Robert Dix, the son of a big-screen icon who made his own mark in Hollywood with appearances in dozens of films, including Forbidden Planet, Forty Guns and a succession of B-grade horror movies, has died. He was 83.
Dix died Monday of respiratory failure at a hospital in Tucson, Arizona, his wife, Lynette, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Dix was the youngest son (by 10 minutes) of Richard Dix, who made the transition from the silent era to talkies, received a best actor nomination in the best picture Oscar winner Cimarron (1931) and starred in the series of Whistler film noirs at Columbia Pictures in the 1940s.
His son, a contract player at MGM, played Crewman Grey, who gets zapped by the id monster, in the groundbreaking sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet (1956).
Robert Dix later transitioned to 20th Century Fox, where he portrayed the youngest of the three heroic Bonnell brothers (Barry Sullivan and Gene Barry were the others) for director Sam Fuller in Forty Guns (1957), starring Barbara Stanwyck. And he was Frank James, the brother of an outlaw, in Young Jesse James (1960).
In 1969 alone, the handsome Dix starred as psychos in the low-budget horror films Blood of Dracula’s Castle, Satan’s Sadists and Five Bloody Graves (1969) — he also wrote that one — then toplined Hell’s Bloody Devils and Horror of the Blood Monsters in 1970 releases.
“When you actually have to develop the inner life of a character who was nuts, that was an interesting challenge,” he told author Tom Weaver. “In both cases, I recall, it came off pretty believably — I had people comment in the positive regarding it. It was a stretch for me, and in the final analysis it was good experience.”
(Those five films were all directed by Al Adamson, who years later would be found murdered and buried under a hot tub in Indio, California.)
While in New Orleans doing research for a movie about Cajun customs, Dix discovered that Roger Moore, a buddy from his days at MGM, was there filming Live and Let Die (1973). After a night on the town, the 007 star put Dix to work in an uncredited role as an FBI agent who gets knifed and then placed in a casket during a Bourbon Street parade.
Born in Los Angeles on May 8, 1935, Dix was raised in a home in Beverly Hills and on a ranch in Malibu. As a youngster, he worked at the local market, delivering groceries to the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Jimmy Durante and Robert Cummings.
In September 1949, when he was just 14, his father, then 56, died of a heart attack. Four years later, his twin brother, Richard Dix Jr., died in a logging accident. His mother remarried, and he did not get along with his stepfather, food magnate Walter Van De Kamp (co-founder of Lawry’s the Prime Rib, which opened in Beverly Hills in 1938).
Dix studied acting at the National Academy of Theater Arts in Pleasantville, New York, then, through his friend Tom Tannenbaum — the son of the mayor of Beverly Hills who had become an MGM exec — was signed to a seven-year deal at the studio when he was 18.
He appeared in small roles in seven 1955 films, including The Glass Slipper, Interrupted Melody, Love Me or Leave Me and I’ll Cry Tomorrow.
Dix’s stay at that studio, however, was short-lived. “I did two years on the contract until television came along and wiped out all the contract players,” he said in a 2010 interview. He then showed up on such TV Westerns as Gunsmoke, Death Valley Days, The Rifleman and Rawhide and, with Casey Kasem, in the 1969 biker flick Wild Wheels.
For his role in Deadwood ’76 (1965), Dix said he went to the Western Costume Co. in Hollywood and got the same coat and vest that his father had worn in Badlands of Dakota (1941).
In 2016, Dix completed work on a movie from Gila Films called The Last Frankenstein, which is now listed as “in postproduction” on IMDb. (Back in 1958, he had played a cop in Richard Cunha’s low-budget Frankenstein’s Daughter.)
In addition to his wife, survivors include his children Jana and Robert, two grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
A funeral service will take place at 10 a.m. Friday at Russellville-Dragoon Cemetery in Cochise County, Arizona.
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