One of the very greatest of modern character actors, Charles Napier was, like many of his peers, blessed genetically with one precise expression. In Lee Van Cleef’s case, it was an epic sneer. Mr. Napier could pull off a pretty great sneer as well, but his specialty was a lock-jawed look of barely contained fury.
Although he could, and occasionally did, play nice guys, Mr. Napier’s specialty was thugs, especially rural ones. Usually smart, or at least cunning, and something comical (his face was so square-jawed and his voice so perfectly gravelly that like Bruce Campbell he could, when he wanted, come across as cartoonish), as in perhaps his most famous and emblematic role as the Winnebago-driving county singer out to stomp on the titular Blues Brothers.
During a long career, usually tilling the episodic TV and B-movie fields, with the occasional supporting role in a studio film, Napier often appeared in genre fare, including such TV shows as Star Trek, The Incredible Hulk, The Night Stalker and pretty much every cop and PI show of the ’70s, as well as films such as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Supervixens, Rambo First Blood Part II, Deep Space, Alien from the Deep, Future Zone, Maniac Cop 2, Silence of the Lambs, Hell Comes to Frogtown 2, Skeeter, and many more.
Another irreplaceable actor gone. Mr. Napier was 75.