Strapping and square-jawed, character actor Charles Napier, who died yesterday at the age of 75, seemed to belong to a more rugged paradigm of American man. Napier began his unlikely film career as one of Russ Meyer’s manly men.
In a Random Roles with The A.V. Club, Napier discussed his introduction to Meyer in ways that spoke volumes about both men when he recounted, “I was dating some stripper, and she told me about a movie (Meyer) wanted her to make, and she was scared to go in and talk to the guy. But I went along, and at that time, he was out in Santa Monica someplace, and I walked in, and he basically said, “What the hell are you doing here?” And I said “Well, she doesn’t feel comfortable around you.” And he said, “Do you feel comfortable around me?” And I said, “About as far as I can fuckin’ throw ya.” And I wound up in a movie. He said, “Have you been in the military?” I go “Yeah,” and he goes, “Okay, I want you to play this role.” And that’s how I got in the movie with him.”
Napier and Meyer went on to have a long and fruitful partnership: Napier even co-produced Meyer’s magnum opus Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Napier’s rugged, athletic looks and hulking frame made him a natural for cops and military men. Over the course of his long, fruitful career, Napier helped give The Incredible Hulk his growl, squared off against the Blues Brothers as the lead singer of its rivals The Good Old Boys and was a beloved player in Jonathan Demme’s repertory company.
In the 1990s Napier picked up a new audience as the voice of Duke Philips, film critic Jay Sherman’s unmistakably Ted Turner-like boss on the cult television classic The Critic. Napier last appeared The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard. The year before he was murdered by a sentient penis in the horror comedy One Eyed Monster. Napier was of a school of character actor that derived its authority and authenticity from the hard lives they led more than the words they said. He didn’t just play tough guys with effortless conviction; he lived the life onscreen and off.