George Gerdes, Singer, Songwriter and Character Actor, Dies at 72

George Gerdes
Courtesy of Judy Johns

George Gerdes

He worked onstage for Aaron Sorkin and Sam Shepard and appeared onscreen in 'The X-Files,' 'Bosch' and 'The 11th Green.'

George Gerdes, the quirky singer-songwriter turned character actor whose career included turns in A Few Good Men, Single White Female, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The X-Files and Bosch, has died. He was 72.

Gerdes died in a Glendale hospital on New Year's Day after suffering a brain aneurysm on New Year's Eve, his life partner, Judy Johns, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Gerdes played a Brooklyn gangster in pursuit of Michael Keaton in The Squeeze (1987), a dog-sledding Swede in Iron Will (1994) and a vigilante leader on the 1992 Seinfeld episode "The Bubble Boy."

In 2020, he portrayed President Dwight Eisenhower in Christopher Munch's sci-fi drama The 11th Green and appeared on episodes of Grey's Anatomy and the rebooted Perry Mason.

Gerdes recurred on the Amazon Prime crime drama Bosch as Ray Scales, who heads Charlie Company, a halfway house for Vietnam War veterans. On Twitter, series star Titus Welliver noted his death and called him "an actor's actor and deeply kind man."

Michael McKean also wrote on Twitter that his "dear old friend … was a wonderful songwriter, poet and actor, much beloved by everyone who knew him. You would have liked him, too."

Born in Queens on Feb. 23, 1948, Gerdes "by the time he was three or four could imitate Arthur Godfrey and other TV figures," his sister, Julia Dubnoff, said.

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in 1969, he recorded two folk/pop albums in '71 and '72 for United Artists Records, Obituary and Son of Obituary; on the latter, which was produced by Nik Venet, he was joined by Charlie McCoy, Henry Strzelecki and Kenny Buttrey, Nashville session musicians who had backed up Bob Dylan on his 1966 classic Blonde on Blonde.

Among the fans of his music was Joni Mitchell, who once described his tune "Say So What Else Is New?" as "the happiest sad song I've ever heard."

In 1978, a New York Times reviewer compared Gerdes to Loudon Wainwright III and wrote his songs "were effectively balanced between overt humor — which doesn't mean silliness so much as seriousness infused with fun — and starker, more moving numbers."

Terre Roche, the founding member of the vocal group The Roches who introduced Gerdes to Johns, described his style to THR in a statement: "George's songs and performances were unlike anything I've ever heard before or since. The songs were beautifully crafted. But when he mounted the stage, it was as if he had become a channel for all sorts of characters from out of the movies as he effortlessly held rapid-fire conversations between Buster Keaton, Elvis, the Wicked Witch of the West, Laurel & Hardy and myriad others from his youth."

In the 1980s, Gerdes appeared on the stage in Sam Shepard's long-running off-Broadway hit Fool for Love and in Aaron Sorkin's A Few Good Men on Broadway. He later played the building superintendent in Single White Female (1992), a fiery Southern preacher on a 1994 episode of The X-Files and a detective in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011).

He also showed up in such films as Amistad (1997), Hidalgo (2004) and Rumor Has It … (2005) and on series including Miami Vice, Nash Bridges, Hunter, NYPD Blue, Walker, Texas Ranger, Cold Case, NCIS, ER, Lost and True Blood.

Survivors also include his nephews, Zachary, Michael and Will. A celebration of his life will be planned for the non-COVID future. Donations in his name may be made to the Meher Spiritual Center.

"George was a triple threat," Roche wrote. "A great singer-songwriter and an actor as well. Not to disparage the worth of big stars, but in many ways George was too deep and profound to become a big pop sensation. Many of us New York City singer-songwriters of that era owe a great debt to George's influence.

"He once told me that as a child he wanted to go inside the television with all the people he encountered there. With his acting career, he went on to fulfill that dream for himself."