Robert Z’Dar, the cult-movie actor famous for portraying sci-fi and action-movie heavies—a persona enhanced by his signature jawline—has died. Z’Dar was hospitalized after experiencing chest pains while attending the Pensacon comics convention in Pensacola, Florida; there, according to his manager and friend Jim Decker, he went into cardiac arrest and died Monday night. He was 64.
Born Robert J. Zdarsky in Chicago, Illinois, Z’Dar studied acting at Arizona State University, where he also played on the football team. After college, Z’Dar held a variety of jobs, including as a Chicago police officer, the singer/guitarist/keyboardist for the band Nova Express, a commercial jingle writer, and, according to Time, a Chippendales dancer before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a movie career.
Z’Dar’s first movie role was in the 1985 B-movie Hellhole, about a young woman tortured in a mental asylum after seeing her mother get murdered by a serial killer called “Silk.” This outrageous debut set the tone for the rest of Z’Dar’s career, which included prominent turns as a martial-arts baddie in the cult classic Samurai Cop, as the Angel of Death in the MST3K favorite Soultaker, and as the titular Maniac Cop in the first three films in the series of the same name. Z’Dar appeared in 121 films and TV episodes in his career, most of them action/horror/sci-fi B-movies, although he briefly flirted with the mainstream as a guy named “Face” in the Sylvester Stallone/Kurt Russell film Tango & Cash.
Indeed, Z’Dar was often cast for his looks, namely his massive jawline, the result of a genetic disorder called cherubism. His signature chin, as well as his resume, was ever-growing, and the combination gave Z’Dar a notoriety among cult film fans that made him a fixture on the convention circuit. Ever prolific, Z’Dar continued to work until the end, and was in the midst of filming Samurai Cop 2 at the time of his death.
Decker tells The Pensacola News-Journal that he and Z’Dar “[have] been together through thick and thin. He was the first actor I took on in my career as an agent. We spent many weekends on the road together and a lot of time enjoying each other’s company. I miss him dearly.”