Michael J. Pollard, Oscar-Nominated Actor in 'Bonnie and Clyde,' Dies at 80

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Michael J. Pollard

He worked again with Warren Beatty in 'Dick Tracy' and starred in the comedies 'Roxanne' and 'Scrooged.' Michael J. Fox's middle initial is a tribute to him.

Michael J. Pollard, who portrayed the gas station attendant lured into the criminal world of bank robberies by Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway in the landmark Bonnie and Clyde, has died. He was 80.

Pollard died Wednesday of cardiac arrest at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, his longtime friend Dawn Walker told The Hollywood Reporter

"He was quite a character without knowing it," Alison Martino, who first reported Pollard's death, wrote on her Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page. "He walked EVERYWHERE and never repeated his stories because he had so many. The only thing he repeated was his love for Turner Classic Movies. And you could never call him after 7:30 because he’d be watching Jeopardy."

With an impish face and mischievous grin, Pollard became somewhat of a cult actor opposite Robert Redford in the biker film Little Fauss and Big Halsy (1970); as outlaw Billy the Kid in Dirty Little Billy (1972); in Jonathan Demme's Melvin and Howard (1980); in the comedies Roxanne (1987), Scrooged (1988) and Tango and Cash (1989); and in Dick Tracy (1990), where he reunited with Beatty.

As an escaped American POW in Michael Winner's 1969 comedy Hannibal Brooks, Pollard was paid $75,000 for his performance, five times what he earned on Bonnie and Clyde two years earlier.

In his career spanning seven decades, Pollard also appeared in Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and on television in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Andy Griffith Show, Gunsmoke and Superboy, as the villain Mister Mxyzptlk.

In 1966, he memorably portrayed a Peter Pan-type character in the bittersweet Lost in Space episode "The Magic Mirror," and in Star Trek's "Miri," he was the adolescent leader of a group of orphaned children inhabiting an Earth-like planet.

For his performance in Bonnie and Clyde as C.W. Moss, a composite character of real gang members W.D. Jones and Henry Methvin, Pollard received a supporting actor Oscar nomination. He lost to George Kennedy of Cool Hand Luke. (Pollard was one of five actors nominated for the movie.)

At the end of the film, his onscreen father, played by Western stalwart Dub Taylor, is instrumental in the violent killing of the famous criminals.

Pollard also picked up a Golden Globe nom (losing to Richard Attenborough for Doctor Dolittle) and a BAFTA nom for most promising newcomer — that award went to co-star Dunaway.

For Bonnie and Clyde, Pollard told The New York Times in 1968 that on the set he initially refused to wear ear plugs during the shootout scenes.

"So I shot this thing off and [director] Arthur Penn came over and asked me something and all I could see was his face moving and no sound coming out," he recalled. "I was deaf for half an hour after."

Born Michael John Pollard on May 30, 1939, in Passaic, New Jersey, the cavalier actor began with a school production of H.M.S Pinafore, then joined the Actors Studio. He appeared on Broadway with Beatty in Loss of Roses in 1959 and originated the role of Hugo Peabody in the 1960 production of Bye Bye Birdie.

Walt Disney reportedly hoped Pollard would become a go-to-actor for his family films, but he only made one movie for Disney — Summer Magic (1963), opposite Hayley Mills.

In the early 1970s, Pollard befriended members of the English rock band Traffic and planned to make a film with drummer Jim Capaldi.

During a session of lyric writing and brainstorming, Pollard scribbled the phrase "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" in a notebook. The movie never materialized, but Capaldi turned that phrase into a near 12-minute song on Traffic's 1971 album of the same name.

Influence struck again, this time without Pollard's knowledge, when actor Michael J. Fox took Pollard's middle initial, since the Screen Actors Guild already had a "Michael Fox" on its books.

"And then I remembered one of my favorite character actors, Michael J. Pollard, the guileless accomplice in Bonnie and Clyde," Fox wrote in his 2002 autobiography, Lucky Man: A Memoir. "I stuck in the J, which I sometimes tell people stands for either Jenuine, or Jenius, and resubmitted my forms."

Pollard was married to actress Beth Howland (Vera Gorman on the CBS sitcom Alice) until their divorce in 1969. He struggled with alcohol and drug abuse before sobering up in the 1980s, Walker said.

Survivors include his daughter, Holly; son, Axel; and cousins Alicia, Joseph, Elizabeth, Julie and Peter.

Mike Barnes contributed to this report.