John "Bud" Cardos, Stuntman, Animal Wrangler and Director, Dies at 91

Bud Cardos
Joe O'Connell

John "Bud" Cardos

A jack of all trades, he worked on lots of exploitation films, often with B-movie maestro Al Adamson.

John "Bud" Cardos, a stuntman, animal wrangler and director of films including The Red, White and Black, Kingdom of the Spiders and The Dark, has died. He was 91.

Cardos died in his sleep Dec. 31 of natural causes at his home in Acton, California, where he had a horse ranch, his wife, Letty, told The Hollywood Reporter. 

Cardos was an actor and stuntman for director Al Adamson on such exploitation films as Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969), Satan's Sadists (1969), Five Bloody Graves (1969), The Female Bunch (1971), Black Samurai (1976) and Death Dimension (1978).

After Sam Peckinpah hired him to do stunts and serve as his second unit director on The Wild Bunch (1969), Cardos made his directorial debut with The Red, White and Black (1970), a Western featuring Rafer Johnson, Isabel Sanford and Barbara Hale.

He went on helm Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), starring William Shatner; The Dark (1979), featuring William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby and Casey Kasem; Mutant (1984), starring Bo Hopkins; Skeleton Coast (1988), featuring Ernest Borgnine; Act of Piracy (1988), starring Gary Busey; and a highly regarded documentary, Legends of the West (1992).

However, he was most renowned for his stunt work, and Quentin Tarantino reportedly once described him as "one of those dusty drinks of water who comes riding out of the chute on the back of some two-ton beast frothing at the mouth, bent on throwing him into the muck and stomping the shit out of him."

Born in St. Louis on Dec. 20, 1929, Cardos moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was 4. His uncle managed Grauman's Chinese Theatre and his father did the same for the Egyptian Theatre down the street on Hollywood Boulevard.

As a youngster, he appeared in Our Gang comedy shorts, and Charles, Spyros and George Skouras, brothers who owned movie theaters, helped his dad open Johnnie Cardos' Club Café in Los Angeles. (Spyros later served for two decades as president of Fox.)

During summers as a teenager in Big Bear, California, Cardos participated in rodeos, worked at stables and delivered horses to the sets of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies.

After a 1946-52 stint in the U.S. Army, he was hired as a wrangler and stuntman on the CBS series Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, then handled feathered creatures on Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) and animals on NBC's Daniel Boone.

Cardos played Native Americans on such TV shows as NBC's The High Chaparral and films including The Savage Seven (1968), and his stuntman résumé also included work in Hells Angels on Wheels (1967), A Man Called Dagger (1968) and Psych-Out (1968).

Cardos also served as a production manager, art director and production designer during his career; more recently, he was a driver on such movies as City of Industry (1997) and Memento (2000) and appeared in Danger God (2018), a documentary about stuntman Gary Kent that was directed by Joe O'Connell.

"You've got to be very athletic, but that doesn't mean you can do stunts," he says in the film. "A stunt, to me, has to be done without even thinking about it. You've got to know what you're going to do, and it has to happen, that fast! … I used to fall [off horses] on a complete dead run, get shot right off, backward, sideways, whatever you want. Never had a scratch."

Survivors include his daughters Debbie, Kim, Judy and Cindy.

3:20 p.m. A previous version of this obituary incorrectly stated the date of Cardos' death. According to his wife, he died Dec. 31. Additional information about his daughters has been added as well.