John Mahon, Character Actor Who Overcame Polio, Dies at 82

John Mahon - Publicity - P 2020
Courtesy Joseph Mahon

He worked alongside Al Pacino on Broadway and appeared in 'The Exorcist,' 'L.A. Confidential,' 'One False Move' and 'The X-Files.'

John Mahon, a veteran character actor who specialized in playing law enforcement and military types as seen in such films as L.A. ConfidentialOne False Move and The People Under the Stairs, has died. He was 82.

Mahon, who worked often with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Exorcist actor Jason Miller, died May 3 of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles, his son, Joseph, announced.

When he was 12, Mahon contracted poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis, and spent almost nine months fully paralyzed. He never recovered full use of his left arm but became a mentor to actors with disabilities and wrote about his life and career in a 2014 memoir, A Life of Make Believe: From Paralysis to Hollywood.

Born on Feb. 3, 1938, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Mahon studied classical languages and English literature at the University of Scranton, where he met Miller, then headed to New York days after graduation. 

In 1971, he was nominated for best actor by the New York Drama Critics for his portrayal of Father Hanley in Miller's Nobody Hears a Broken Drum. He appeared with Miller in The Exorcist (1973) and then directed the playwright's That Championship Season in runs that starred Broderick Crawford.

Mahon's big-screen résumé also included Bad Influence (1990), The American President (1995), Armageddon (1998), Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and Zodiac (2007).

On television, he could be seen on The Rockford FilesHill Street BluesMacGyverKnots LandingHunterSt. ElsewhereThe X-FilesFrasierCold Case and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

For the stage, Mahon toured with Tammy Grimes in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, appeared with Leslie Caron in Nicole and worked alongside Al Pacino on Broadway in Richard III in 1979. And he directed New York productions of HairCamelotWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

He also worked as a spokesman in commercials for such companies as Stanley Tools, Ping and Pennzoil.

Survivors include his daughter, Katharine.