Plenty of actors make a comfortable living by repeatedly racking up roles that earn them the description of “That Guy,” but not many are as comfortable with that living as Taylor Negron was.
Negron, who died on Saturday at age 57 after a lengthy battle with cancer (as confirmed by his cousin, Three Dog Night vocalist Chuck Negron, in a brief but emotional statement), was known variously for his work as a stand-up comedian, director, essayist, playwright, painter, and game-show guest. To mainstream audiences, however, Negron was most frequently recognized either because he was “that guy who was on that show that time” or because he was “that guy in that movie they used to show on cable all the time,” and whichever of those two scenarios came into play, the end result was generally the realization that Negron ”the guy who was in that other thing, too.”
This is because Negron was in a lot of things. And when he appeared in those things, he invariably made the sort of impression that’s hard to forget.
Born Brad Stephen Negron, the man eventually known as Taylor entered the world in Glendale, California, a city he later described in his official bio as being “so boring it made Burbank seem like Berlin in the early thirties.” Despite (or perhaps because of) these tedious surroundings, Negron soon ventured out of Glendale and began the process of forging a career in the entertainment business, one which – based on a fascinating story hidden within the Scrapbook section of his website – can arguably be said to have started when a collective of Hanna-Barbera animators spotted him while he was on a school field trip.
“I was approached by five grizzly men eating over-sized burritos, who presented me with oily business cards that read, ‘Animator.’ The lead one offered his hand. ‘Kid, I can’t help but notice that you’ve got a big head.’ The other four nodded their heads in agreement, looking like the magpies from Heckle & Jeckle. That night, I presented my parents with the business card and begged them to allow me to pursue my sudden lifelong dream of becoming a cartoon model. My parents agreed, both declaring big-headedness a trait from their side of the family. They then helped me negotiate a then hefty salary of $1.15 an hour. A month later I reported to Hanna-Barbera Studios in the San Fernando Valley…and went to work on a new and exciting cartoon series, Devlin. I was being used as the prototype of Devlin’s brother, Todd.”
While Negron’s contributions to the Hanna-Barbera canon remained woefully uncelebrated, Devlin proved to be only a blip on his overall career path. For such a funny guy, Negron took his craft seriously and, in turn, trained with some seriously notable names, studying acting with Lee Strasberg and learning comedy from Lucille Ball, who – per Negron’s website – gave him the best advice he ever received in show business. (“When playing drunk, speak slowly and clearly. And don’t ever produce a show about helicopters.”) In addition, Negron cited Robin Williams as being responsible for pushing him to make the jump from improv to stand-up, noting that the comedian’s encouragement ”really got me over the initial horror.”
By his early twenties, Negron had secured his first recurring role on a TV series, playing Silvio Galindez in the 1979 ABC series Detective School, which placed him in the company of James Gregory (Barney Miller), Randolph Mantooth (Emergency!), LaWanda Page (Sanford and Son), and future Police Squad! and Police Academy writer Pat Proft. Although Detective School proved to be enough of a success during its initial three-episode Tuesday night tryout during the summer to secure an order for an additional 10 episodes, a move to Saturday nights in the fall and a timeslot following the underperforming Three’s Company spinoff, The Ropers, led to the series’ demise.
While it may have been a bummer to Negron at the time, the ‘80s quickly found him with a far stronger footing on the big screen. With his memorable visage and his unerring ability to secure a huge laugh with a single line - or, in some cases, as little as a look, as was the case in Easy Money, where he played Rodney Dangerfield’s soon-to-be son-in-law, Julio - Negron quickly became a familiar face to filmgoers, making the most out of every onscreen role, no matter how small.
While his most-seen ‘80s film roles are likely his performances as Pizza Guy in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Mailman in Better Off Dead, along with his aforementioned work in Easy Money, Negron also had memorable moments in Young Doctors in Love, Bad Medicine, River’s Edge, and Punchline, earning probably the biggest laugh anyone’s ever gotten with the words “area rug.”
The mid-‘80s also found Negron taking tentative steps back onto the small screen, starting with a guest spot on Hill Street Blues, but the ’90s proved to be the comedian’s TV glory days, as a cursory look at his filmography - or a quick trip through your cable listings - will reveal. On the comedy front, he turned up on Friends, Seinfeld, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Ben Stiller Show, Clueless, Grace Under Fire, and Dave’s World, among others, and had recurring roles on Hope & Gloria and The Hughleys.
Drama-wise, he made appearances on Falcon Crest, Party of Five, Touched by an Angel, The Pretender, The Practice, ER, and Nash Bridges. How did Negron make the jump to doing so much TV drama? Well, aside from the Strasberg training mentioned a few paragraphs back, it likely came about as a result of the considerable praise he earned for his turn as the villainous Milo in the 1991 Bruce Willis / Damon Wayans buddy-cop pic, The Last Boy Scout, which led him to be seen in a different light by some. With the arguable exception of Angels in the Outfield, however, his film work continued to be predominantly of the comedic variety, as evidence by appearances in Nothing But Trouble, Bio-Dome, Spy Hard, Chairman of the Board, Stuart Little, and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas.
Although the majority of Negron’s film work in recent years tended to be in smaller independent projects, where his unique comedic sensibilities were embraced, his efforts for the small screen introduced him to a new generation of viewers: in addition to serving as a series regular on the Olsen Twins’ Fox Family series, So Little Time, he also turned up on That’s So Raven, Wizards of Waverly Place, and Zoey 101. (Thankfully, older fans were still able to enjoy him during his one-off appearances on Reno 911! and Curb Your Enthusiasm.) Negron also had a presence on various game shows, including Hollywood Squares, Pictionary, and The Dating Game, on which he claimed to have appeared 13 times without ever once being picked, and he also made a highly memorable appearance in The Aristocrats.
Negron’s creativity continued to thrive even when he wasn’t on camera. He wrote a number of plays, including Three Feet Under, which was presented by Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner, and Gangster Planet, the posters for which bore the tagline, “Re-experience the joy of the L.A. Riots!” In addition, he also composed 2008’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being Taylor Negron – A Fusion of Story and Song, which made its debut at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival, and wrote a number of essays for a variety of publications. Negron’s efforts as a painter were regarded well enough to warrant an exhibition of his work as part of the Laemmle Royal’s “Art in the Art House” series, and he was also on the board of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Even as Negron’s health worsened, he continued to write, earning plaudits for his recurring essays for the website XOJane.com, with particular notice being given to his reminiscences of his late neighbor, Catherine Davis, after she was allegedly murdered by Sons of Anarchy star Johnny Lewis before he jumped or fell to his death. Now, however, it seems probable - and highly appropriate - that Negron will be best remembered for his final essay for the website, which was posted yesterday under the headline, “A Last Gift From The Genius Mind of Taylor Negron: Reflections On A Life Spent Playing Everyman,” and which he wraps up with a three-word sentence that perfectly sums up his acting career: “I’m That Guy.”
And what a That Guy he was.