Don Gordon, Top-Notch Character Actor and Pal of Steve McQueen, Dies at 90

Don Gordon - Photofest - H 2017
Courtesy of Photofest

The Emmy nominee played the cop Delgetti in 'Bullitt' and an inmate in 'Papillon' and appeared twice on 'The Twilight Zone.'

Don Gordon, the busy character who appeared opposite his buddy Steve McQueen in Bullitt, Papillon and The Towering Inferno, has died. He was 90.

A specialist in playing tough, hard-nosed characters, Gordon died April 24 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his wife of 37 years, Denise, told The Hollywood Reporter. He was diagnosed with cancer just five days before his death, she said.

Gordon appeared in scores of TV episodes during his career, including two installments of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone: He portrayed a prize fighter in "The Four of Us Are Dying" in 1960 and was a thug who discovers he can trade his bad attributes for good ones in "The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross" in 1964.

Gordon received an Emmy nomination in 1963 for a one-shot dramatic role on The Defenders and three years later portrayed the sinister Richard Jensen, who menaced Lee Grant's Stella, on the second season of the primetime soap opera Peyton Place.

Gordon and McQueen were neighbors in L.A.'s Laurel Canyon, and McQueen used to drive past Gordon's home in his pickup truck. They soon became friends, and McQueen gave Gordon work on a 1959 episode of his CBS Western, Wanted: Dead or Alive.

Gordon then played the cop Delgetti, the partner to McQueen's detective character, in Bullitt (1968), the inmate Julot in Papillon (1973) and a fire captain in The Towering Inferno (1974).

McQueen had cancer and died of a heart attack after surgery to remove tumors in November 1980. He was 50.

"I think he enjoyed my company. I don't know," Gordon said in a 2005 interview. "And also, a lot of people would kiss up to him and everything. I didn't. He was just my friend, and I told the truth about whatever he asked about. … I never lied to him; he never lied to me."

Gordon spoke about his pal in the documentary Steve McQueen: The Essence of Cool (2005).

Born in Los Angeles on Nov. 13, 1926, Gordon made his first onscreen appearance in Twelve O'Clock High (1949), appeared with Dennis Hopper in The Last Movie (1971) and Out of the Blue (1980) and toiled in the early 1970s action flicks Fuzz, Slaughter and The Mack.

He also wrote the screenplay and starred as a cynical boxer in The Lollipop Cover (1965).

Gordon's well-stocked TV résumé includes work on Space Patrol, Climax!, 77 Sunset Strip, Johnny Staccato, The Blue Angels, The Outer Limits, The Untouchables, The F.B.I., Mannix, The Streets of San Francisco, Hart to Hart, T.J. Hooker, Remington Steele (as a character named Anthony Delgetti in a nod to Bullitt) and Diagnosis Murder.

In addition to his wife (she and Gordon were together for 45 years), survivors include his daughter Gabrielle.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that a donation be made to his favorite charity, the Lange Foundation, dedicated to animal rescue, care and placement.