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Dennis Burkley, a burly character actor who played truckers, bartenders, bikers and rednecks during a busy four-decade career that included a stint as the voice of Principal Moss on Fox’s King of the Hill has died. He was 67.
Burkley died early Sunday in his sleep at his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif., agent David Ankrum tells The Hollywood Reporter. He had been battling health problems for some time, said his son, Shawn.
The fun-loving Burkley, who was born in Van Nuys, Calif., but grew up outside Dallas, stood 6-foot-3 and for a time weighed more than 300 pounds (he lost a considerable amount of weight in recent years). He often sported a dark, scruffy beard and a Texas accent in a prolific career that began in the early 1970s and included more than 130 film and TV credits.
Two of his more memorable roles were as a giant, mute biker who befriends Eric Stoltz’s character in Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask (1985) and as another biker, a racist named Sonny Crockett on four 1983 episodes of Hill Street Blues. (Anthony Yerkovich, a writer and producer on that show, gave the character played by Don Johnson that same name a year later when he created the stylish cop show, Miami Vice.)
Burkley also starred as Redd Foxx’s junkyard partner Cal Pettie on Sanford, a reboot of Sanford and Son that ran two seasons on NBC from 1980-81. (Demond Wilson, who played Foxx’s son and partner on the original series, did not want to partake.)
Burkley, whose pals called him “Big D,” voiced Carl Moss, the principal of Tom Landry Middle School in Arlen, Texas, on 35 episodes of King of the Hill, which aired for 13 seasons from 1997 to 2008.
Burkley also had parts in such films as Heroes (1977), The Slugger’s Wife (1985), Murphy’s Romance (1985), Wanted: Dead or Alive (1986), No Way Out (1987), Who’s That Girl (1987), Fletch Lives (1989), The End of Innocence (1990), The Doors (1991), Rush (1991), Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992), Tin Cup (1996), Touch (1997) and Hollywood Homicide (2003).
Burkley’s TV résumé also includes guest-star stints on such shows as Emergency!, Kojak, Starsky and Hutch, McCloud, One Day at a Time, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Baretta, Maude, The Rockford Files, B.J. and the Bear, The Fall Guy, The Dukes of Hazzard, Who’s the Boss?, Designing Women, Ellen, NYPD Blue, JAG, The Drew Carey Show and My Name Is Earl.
After attending Grand Prairie High School and getting his master’s in theater at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Burkley headed back to the Los Angeles area, where he cleaned swimming pools while pursing an acting career. One pool he cleaned belonged to Five Easy Pieces director Bob Rafelson, who gave Burkley a bit part in Stay Hungry (1976), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first credited feature role.
Burkley co-wrote, directed and appeared in the 2005 independent comedy Repetition, about students in a Los Angeles acting class, featuring F. Murray Abraham, Mark Hamill and Robert Englund.
In addition to his son, survivors also include Burkley’s wife of 46 years, Laura, and their daughter, Shannan. Services will be private.
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