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Michael J Pollard, Veteran Character Actor, Dies at 80

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BY November 23, 2019
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Just two months after Sid Haig’s death, another House of 1000 Corpses actor has sadly passed away. Rob Zombie broke the news Friday morning that iconic character actor Michael J Pollard died earlier this week. He was 80 years old. Of course, if you are a film fan, you knew about Pollard long before the 2003 Rob Zombie flick. And if you didn’t, here’s your introduction.

Michael J Pollard: The Early Years

Michael J Pollard Michael J Pollard on Star Trek, image via Paramount

Pollard was born on May 30, 1939, in Passaic, New Jersey, to parents Sonia and Michael Pollack. He graduated from NJ’s Montclair Academy, before attending the Actors Studio in New York City. Marlon Brando’s performance in On the Waterfront inspired Pollard’s career choice. And he was rubbing elbows with icons right away. He once got a call from a classmate, “Marilyn…the girl from class,” as she introduced herself, who wanted to work a scene with him. Yes, it was Ms. Monroe.

Unlike some actors, who have to struggle for years, Pollard found work right away. His first credited television appearance was on the New York-based program Omnibus. The show, a kind of proto-edutainment program, was created by the Ford Foundation to promote learning through television. (No, thank you.) Pollard appeared in a production of “The So-Called Race,” a three-act play. After that, he enjoyed a steady TV career throughout the early and mid-1960s. He appeared on programs like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, for example. Although he often played one-off characters, rather than recurring roles, his characters were often memorable. For instance, he played Jahn, a Peter Pan-like leader of a group of feral kids, in the Star Trek episode “Miri.” Southerners (and others if you were lucky) also fondly remember him as Cousin Virgil on that one episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

Throughout most of the 60s, Pollard cultivated the kind of career that would define his work, that of the character actor. But although he occasionally had a winning character, he wouldn’t truly play an iconic role until the late 1960s.

We Rob Banks: The Cultural Juggernaut of Bonnie and Clyde

Michael J Pollard Bonnie and Clyde, image via Warner Bros

In 1967, Pollard appeared as CW Moss in Arthur Penn’s film Bonnie and Clyde. While criticized at the time by some critics for its unprecedented graphic violence, among other things, the movie has since become a classic. And it wasn’t all bad reviews at the time. Many critics praised the film and so did audiences, who made it one of 1967’s top 5 grossing movies. These days, it’s seen as one of the first films in the “New Hollywood” movement, which marked the rise of films that were products of their creators, rather than producer-driven. (For more examples, think of like, literally any movie from the 70s you love.)

The film would be nominated for all the major awards at the 40th Academy Awards, including Pollard’s nod for Best Supporting Actor. However, only Estelle Parsons (Best Supporting Actress) and Burnett Guffey (Best Cinematography) won. However, Pollard did win a BAFTA for the film.

Pollard in Later Years

Pollard never quite reached the highs of Bonnie and Clyde again, although he kept working as steadily as he had before. He worked regularly in TV and movies throughout the 70s and 80s. While he didn’t appear on as wide (and as wild) a variety of shows as his costar Sid Haig, he did have a colorful TV career in later years. He had a recurring role on Toxic Crusaders, for example. He also played Mr. Mxyzptlk on Superboy, which we’re just learning was a show (in 1989).

Pollard’s career began to slow at the turn of the 21st century, though. His roles became farther between, although it’s unclear if that were by choice or not. The nearly unrecognizable Stucky in House of 1000 Corpses was his prominent role this century. His last credited role was in 2012’s The Woods, although IMDB lists a film called The Next Cassavetes as being in post-production.

Pollard passed away at a Los Angeles-area hospital on November 20, 2019, apparently due to a heart attack. Besides his body of work, he leaves behind a son and daughter. And a namesake actor: When a young Canadian discovered that there was already an established actor in the Screen Actors Guild with the same name, he had to come up with a solution. He didn’t want to use his full name and didn’t like his middle initial, “A,” with his last name. So he picked “J,” as an homage to actor’s actor Pollard and became Michael J. Fox.

Do you have a favorite Michael J Pollard role we didn’t cover? Let us know in the comments or share your memories on social media. (And if you’ve seen The Woods, which has a wildly incongruous cast, please tell us about it immediately.)

featured image via Warner Bros

MoviesPop CultureTV ShowsMichael J Pollard

Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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