Actor John Saxon died yesterday (July 25) at the age of 83.
Although not quite a household name, he was nevertheless, for many years, one of the most recognisable faces in American movies, especially in the western, horror and action genres, with him often cast as a policeman. He worked on something like 200 projects, with starring roles in the 1973 Bruce Lee era-defining martial-arts adventure Enter the Dragon, Wes Craven’s hugely popular A Nightmare on Elm St (1984), and Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996).
An Italian American, he was born Carmine Orrico in Brooklyn in 1936. After high school, he studied acting with the celebrated acting coach Stella Adler, and, changing his name, started taking teenage roles in films during the mid Fifties.
Solid technique, screen-friendly looks and a physicality that came with his proficiency in Judo and Shotokan Karate made him easy to cast. The low-budget teen movie Rock, Pretty Baby (1956) was an unexpected hit and made him a teen pin-up, after which he went on to star in a wide variety of films, from Teach Me How to Cry (retitled The Restless Years) with Sandra Dee in 1958, to the John Huston western The Unforgiven (1960), opposite Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn.
Having also made a number of films in Europe, Saxon went on to play the martial arts expert Roper in 1973’s Enter the Dragon – Bruce Lee’s first big foray into American cinema – which led to action films such as Mitchell (1974), The Swiss Conspiracy (1975) and A Special Cop in Action (1976). He was also, from 1974-’76, a regular in the popular TV shows The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman.
In 1984, starring as the heroine’s policeman father, the Wes Craven shocker A Nightmare on Elm St helped introduce him to a new generation of filmgoers, and he went on to resume the role in two sequels, the second of which saw him also play himself. Roles in TV and film continued until 2015, by which he was just a year away from his 80th birthday.
“I’ve been asked to write an autobiography,” he once said, “and I’ve started it a couple of times, on different angles, and maybe one day I will, but you know what? There’s time for that because I’d like to have the whole story.”