- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2021

Oscar-nominated character actor Ned Beatty died Sunday. He was 83.

TMZ, citing “a family member” and later his manager, reported that Mr. Beatty died in his sleep Sunday, surrounded by relatives at his home.

The celebrity news site said the death was due to natural causes and not related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Beatty was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actor for the 1976 film “Network,” despite having really only one scene — a sinister 5-minute speech to anchorman Howard Beale.

“You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!” Mr. Beatty’s character yells at Beale in a starkly lit room.

As examples of his range as an actor, TMZ noted that his other best-known roles include the comic-relief role of Lex Luthor’s sidekick Otis in the first two Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies and as the rape victim in a famous scene in the rafting-journey thriller “Deliverance.”

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He worked with some of the most important directors in American movies, making “Nashville” and other films with Robert Altman, “1941” with Steven Spielberg, and “Charlie Wilson’s War” with Mike Nichols. 

He specialized in yokel and rube roles, including a dubious marshal in John Huston’s “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean,” a salesman in Arthur Hiller’s “Silver Streak” (1976), and the father of the titular hero in “Rudy.” He tackled Southern Gothic roles in Huston’s Flannery O’Connor adaptation “Wise Blood” and in Altman’s “Cookie’s Fortune.”

He enjoyed a career resurgence later in life as a high-profile voice actor, notably playing the evil pink bear Lotso in “Toy Story 3” and the scheming mayor Tortoise John in “Rango.”

Despite his success in character roles, Mr. Beatty never made the transition into leading-man or star territory.

“They’re more trouble than they’re worth,” he once told People magazine. “I feel sorry for people in a star position — it’s unnatural.”

He also said he enjoyed the freedom being a character actor gave him.

“Stars never want to throw the audience a curveball, but my great joy is throwing curveballs,” he said in a 1977 interview with The Associated Press. “Being a star cuts down on your effectiveness as an actor because you become an identifiable part of a product and somewhat predictable. You have to mind your P’s and Q’s and nurture your fans. But I like to surprise the audience, to do the unexpected.” 

Mr. Beatty also was a prolific actor on television — a rarer thing for a movie star to do then than now — having recurring roles in “Roseanne” and as detective Stanley Bolander, aka “The Big Man,” on ”Homicide: Life on the Street.” He also appeared in “The Execution of Private Slovik,” playing a chaplain assigned to comfort Martin Sheen’s titular soldier in the hours before he was put to death for cowardice.

He was nominated for two Emmys — for the TV miniseries “Friendly Fire” and the TV movie “Last Train Home” — and a Golden Globe for a rare leading role — as a tenor in the Irish film “Hear My Song.”

All told, Mr. Beatty appeared in more than 150 movies and TV shows.

His biggest award as an actor, though, came on Broadway, winning a Drama Desk Award for playing patriarch Big Daddy in a 2003 revival of the Tennessee Williams classic play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

His roots were in the theater. He spent eight years at the Arena Stage Company, appearing in such plays as Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” after working 10 summers at the Barter Theater in Abingdon, Virginia.

But his career took off when he took a train to New York to audition for John Boorman for the role of Bobby Trippe in “Deliverance,” his first major film role and the one that won him fame for the notorious “squeal like a pig” scene.

Mr. Beatty was divorced three times but was still married after 22 years to his fourth wife Sandra Johnson at the time of his death. He had eight children by his first three wives.

• Victor Morton can be reached at vmorton@washingtontimes.com.

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