Ned Beatty, one of the most consistently jolly character actors in movies over the last half decade, has passed away, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was 83.
Born in Kentucky, Beatty first got involved in entertainment as a young a cappella singer. He even scored a scholarship due to his vocal gifts. But he transitioned into stage work instead, and by his mid-30s he’d pivoted into screen work as well. His film debut turned heads: He played one of the bougie Northerners canoeing through the bayou in 1972’s Deliverance. The performance instantly cemented him as a go-to supporting scene-stealer until his retirement some four decades later.
Good-natured and lovable, even when playing squirrelly ne’er-do-wells, Beatty alternated between genre fare, like the Burt Reynolds vehicles White Lightning and Stoker Ace as well as the Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder action comedy Silver Streak, and more serious fare, like Nashville and All the President’s Men. In the scorching satire Network, his one-scene wonder earned him his first and only Academy Award nomination.
Beatty was also at the ground floor of the modern superhero movie era, serving as the comic relief sidekick to Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor in the first two Superman films, from 1978 and 1980. He spent decades popping up to sprinkle pixie dust over movies as diverse as Back to School, Rudy, He Got Game, and Toy Story 3, in which he played the villainous Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear.
Like most character actors, Beatty was a regular on TV as well, and he would swing by the likes of Kojak, The Rockford Files, M*A*S*H, Hawaii 5-O, and Murder, She Wrote. (He would have made a terrific Columbo baddie.) He was an occasional guest on Roseanne, playing father to John Goodman’s Dan Conner, and he spent 33 episodes amidst the top shelf ensemble cast of Homicide: Life on the Street. His final screen role was in 2013’s Baggage Claim.
To answer one possible question: No, he had no relation to Warren Beatty. (Ditto Shirley MacLaine.) When asked, as he often was, he had a wry answer perfectly in keeping with the benevolent persona he created onscreen. He called him his “illegitimate uncle.”