Actor Ned Beatty PETER POWER VIA GETTY IMAGES

Photo: Actor Ned Beatty PETER POWER VIA GETTY IMAGES

The Oscar-nominated Kentucky native also was memorable in ‘Nashville,’ ‘All the President’s Men’ and two Superman films.

13 June 2021 | Mike Barnes | The Hollywood Reporter

Ned Beatty, who made a sparkling feature film debut in Deliverance before turning in noteworthy efforts in NashvilleNetwork and Homicide: Life on the Street as one of the most respected character actors of his time, has died. He was 83.

Beatty died Sunday of natural causes at his Los Angeles home, his daughter Blossom Beatty told The Hollywood Reporter.

The Kentucky native also portrayed Lily Tomlin’s good ol’ boy hustler-lawyer husband in Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975), was a slippery Miami district attorney in Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men (1976) and elicited laughs as Lex Luthor’s (Gene Hackman) bumbling sidekick Otis in Superman (1978) and its 1980 sequel.

On television, Beatty was at his best as Det. Stanley “The Big Man” Bolander on NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street and as the chaplain assigned to an American private (Martin Sheen) in his final hours on the somber 1974 NBC telefilm The Execution of Private Slovik.

Wise Blood (1979) Directed by John Huston Shown from left: Brad Dourif, Ned Beatty

Beatty had an excellent basso profundo singing voice, and his goal as a teenager was to have a career in the musical theater. One of his rare performances as a leading man came as the great Irish tenor Josef Locke in Hear My Song (1991).

The harrowing survival saga Deliverance (1972), directed by John Boorman, starred Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight and Ronny Cox as buddies from Atlanta who take a trip to hillbilly country to canoe down a river.

Beatty said he doubted he was going to get a part in the picture when he sat down with Boorman, his assistant and their wives for lunch in New York. A veteran of the local theater, he had never been in a feature film.

The ‘Deliverance’ Cast Praises Director John Boorman

“There was a very attractive lady [the wife of Boorman’s assistant] sitting next to me to my left,” he recalled in a 1992 interview with the CBC, “and I spent the whole time giving her my best shot … I was terribly married [but still] terribly flirtatious.

“I was quite the heel, and I think that’s what John Boorman liked. He said he thought I was the rudest person he had ever met.”

Deliverance, of course, has become infamous for its uncut 10-minute male rape sequence (“Squeal like a pig!”) in which Beatty, as pudgy businessman Bobby Trippe, is the victim. It’s a scene that viewers have difficulty stomaching.

Years later, The New York Times called upon Beatty to write an article about rape for the newspaper’s op-ed section. “The bottom line [of his piece] and the bad news,” he said, “was that a man would rather be a rapist than have to identify with the victim of a rape.”

In other Reynolds starrers, Betty portrayed the lawbreaking sheriff J.C. Connors in White Lightning (1973) and Gator (1976) and a country music singer-songwriter in W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (1975). The two also worked together in Stroker Ace (1983), Switching Channels (1988) and on a 1989 episode of ABC’s B.L. Stryker.

In Network (1977), directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Paddy Chayefsky, Beatty spent just one day on the set and was seen onscreen for less than six minutes. Yet few could argue that he didn’t deserve his lone Oscar nomination for his commanding performance as Arthur Jensen, the bombastic bigwig of UBS’ parent conglomerate who convinces anchorman Howard Beale (Peter Finch) to see things his way.

“You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!” Jensen bellows in a dimly lit boardroom.

Beatty, who often played Southern yokels and was at ease doing comedy as well as drama, never seemed to harbor any regrets about not having more leading-man roles. “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.”

WARNER BROS. VIA GETTY IMAGES(From left to right) Actors Ned Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight and Ronny Cox pull their canoes through the shallows of a river in a still from director John Boorman’s film “Deliverance.”

Ned Beatty was born on July 6, 1937, in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of a traveling salesman who pitched a system of fire hydrants to officials in small towns. He said his voice broke when he was 10, and he sung in barbershop quartets and at Baptist revivals and weddings as a teenager.

Beatty graduated from Eastern High School in 1955 and then earned a scholarship to attend Transylvania University, a Christian Private school, in Lexington, Kentucky; while in college, he made ends meet by working as a butcher.

When he was about 19, he got a singing part in the play Wilderness Road. “It was an outdoor play about the two counties in Kentucky in the Civil War — one had a lot of slave owners, and the other was very abolitionist,” he told the Chicago Tribute in 1992. “Because my voice was so loud, they gave me some [speaking] lines.”

The experience got him hooked on acting, and in 1957 he joined the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia. (Ernest Borgnine, Hume Cronyn and Larry Linville also performed there early in their careers), moving about the country and performing.

That was followed by a stint in Washington with the Arena Stage Company, where he appeared in the original production of The Great White Hope, starring James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. He eventually made his Broadway debut in the play after it came to New York in 1968.

Around this time, Beatty also landed a job as a bank robber in an FBI training film.

“About a year later, I started getting arrested,” he told Backstage in 2001. “If I went into a small town somewhere, I’d get arrested. I’m serious. That’s the way cops work. They’re used to seeing pictures of bad guys. If they see you and they know that you’re a bad guy, they arrest you. So that went on for a little while, until I started getting known as a film actor.”

Beatty sure was known after Deliverance. He went on to play a thief turned marshal in John Huston’s The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), a rube salesman in Silver Streak (1976), the father of a terminally ill child in Promises in the Dark (1979), the head of an American spy organization in Hopscotch (1980) and the father of an unlikely football hero in Rudy (1993).

His film résumé also included John Cassavetes’ Mikey and Nicky (1976), Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), Gray Lady Down (1978), Steven Spielberg’s 1941 (1979), Huston’s Wise Blood (1979), Radioland Murders (1994), He Got Game (1998), Cookie’s Fortune (1999) with Altman again, Just Cause (1995), Spring Forward (1999), Thunderpants (2002) and Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), and he was the voice of the deceivingly cuddly Lotso in Toy Story 3 (2010).

Beatty also starred as an ex-Marine in charge of a D.C. community center on the short-lived 1977-78 CBS sitcom Szysznyk and played John Goodman’s father in a recurring role on ABC’s Roseanne.

The actor returned to the stage and Broadway in 2003 to portray Big Daddy in a revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, winning a Drama Desk Award, then spent more than a year touring in a production of Showboat.

Survivors include his fourth wife, Sandy, and children Blossom, Doug, twins Charles and Lennis, Wally, Jon, Thomas and Dorothy.

Duane Byrge contributed to this report.

Ned Beatty: 1937-2021

Brian Tallerico  | 13 June 2021

Ned Beatty felt like somebody you knew. He had that fantastic everyman energy that allowed him to jump from genre to genre as one of film history’s best character actors. Not only did he always find a way to fit into whatever project needed him, but he engendered that “hey, it’s that guy” energy that can make the film experience so much better. When we saw Ned Beatty in a project, it led to a smile. ‘Oh, this just got a little more interesting.’ Recent generations probably know him more as a voice actor in some of their favorite films, including back-to-back Academy Award winners for Best Animated Film, but he was once one of the most acclaimed movie stars in the world, appearing in over 160 films, and landing an Oscar nomination and two Emmy nominations to go along with a Drama Desk Award. I take it back—Ned Beatty felt like somebody you wished you knew.

Raised in a very small town in Kentucky, Beatty developed an interest in the arts through singing in his church and in a local barbershop quartet, even getting a singing scholarship before falling in love with acting, making his stage debut at 19 in a historical pageant production. He climbed the ladder up to the theater scene in Louisville in the ‘60s before making his film debut in 1972 in a little film called “Deliverance.” The Jon Voight & Burt Reynolds thriller became a massive hit, shocking audiences all the way to three Oscar nominations.

Beatty used “Deliverance” as a springboard to constant work in the ‘70s on film and TV, starring in projects like “The Last American Hero,” “White Lightning,” and even a two-part episode of “The Rockford Files.” His next major project came in 1975 when Beatty appeared in Robert Altman’s “Nashville” as Del Reese, the local organizer for Hal Phillip Walker, a man who wants to be president. That project was quickly followed by arguably his best work of that era in “Network,” the only performance that would land Beatty an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. So much of Sidney Lumet’s drama feels like it reflects media culture but Beatty’s cynical chairman of the board may have been the most ahead of his time. It’s a shrewd, clever performance in a film, one of those turns that feels like it couldn’t have been given by anyone else.  

The credits from there on out are simply remarkable over the next few years, including “All the President’s Men,” “Silver Streak,” and “Mikey and Nicky,” before he took his place in superhero history by co-starring alongside Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor as the supervillain’s henchman Otis in “Superman: The Movie.” Perhaps it was the quirkiness of that role that did it, but Beatty largely played funny scene-stealers in the ‘80s, popping up in “1941,” “Hopscotch,” “The Incredible Shrinking Woman,” “The Toy,” “Stroker Ace,” “Back to School,” and “The Big Easy,” just to name a few. In 1988, he starred in “Switching Channels,” marking the fifth time he worked with his buddy Burt Reynolds.

While some of his projects in the ‘90s didn’t match his talents, he would still regularly find ways to work with major forces, including the team behind “Homicide: Life on the Street,” Spike Lee (“He Got Game,” Altman again (“Cookie’s Fortune”), and more. He even won a Drama Desk Award for his work in a West End revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as the legendary Big Daddy. He lent his fantastic voice to two of the biggest animated films of their era, stealing scenes in “Toy Story 3” and “Rango.” He worked so consistently for five decades, typically with multiple credits a year, that who could blame him for retiring in 2013? He had long ago made his mark on film history.

Many people wondered if Ned Beatty was related to Warren Beatty—he wasn’t, although he would joke that he was Warren’s “illegitimate uncle”—but he was married four times and had eight children.

Ned Beatty passed away in Los Angeles of natural causes, leaving a list of films that will be watched for generations to come. People will be smiling when he makes his first appearance for a long time, nodding their head as if they’re seeing an old friend.

Brian Tallerico
Brian TallericoBrian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

 FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Birth of the Living Dead (18-Oct-2013) · Himself
Rampart (10-Sep-2011) · Hartshorn
Rango (3-Mar-2011) · Mayor [VOICE]
Toy Story 3 (12-Jun-2010) · Lotso [VOICE]
The Killer Inside Me (24-Jan-2010)
In the Electric Mist (7-Feb-2009) · Twinky Lemoyne
Charlie Wilson’s War (21-Dec-2007)
Shooter (23-Mar-2007)
The Walker (13-Feb-2007) · Jack Delorean
Sweet Land (2005) · Harmo
The Wool Cap (21-Nov-2004)
Where the Red Fern Grows (3-May-2003) · Sheriff Abe McConnell
Thunderpants (24-May-2002)
Roughing It (16-Mar-2002)
Homicide: The Movie (13-Feb-2000)
Spring Forward (Sep-1999) · Murph
Life (13-Apr-1999) · Dexter Wilkins
Cookie’s Fortune (22-Jan-1999) · Lester Boyle
He Got Game (1-May-1998)
The Curse of Inferno (1997)
Crazy Horse (7-Jul-1996)
Gulliver’s Travels (4-Feb-1996)
Streets of Laredo (12-Nov-1995)
The Affair (14-Oct-1995)
Just Cause (17-Feb-1995) · McNair
Radioland Murders (21-Oct-1994)
Rudy (18-Sep-1993)
Ed and His Dead Mother (1993) · Uncle Benny
Prelude to a Kiss (10-Jul-1992) · Dr. Boyle
Trial: The Price of Passion (3-May-1992)
Hear My Song (7-Sep-1991)
Captain America (27-Feb-1991)
Repossessed (14-Sep-1990)
A Cry in the Wild (1-Jun-1990)
Going Under (1990)
Big Bad John (1990)
Chattahoochee (16-Sep-1989) · Dr. Harwood
Tennessee Waltz (6-Aug-1989) · Kiefer
Physical Evidence (27-Jan-1989)
Time Trackers (1989)
Purple People Eater (Dec-1988)
Go Toward the Light (1-Nov-1988)
Midnight Crossing (13-May-1988) · Ellis
The Unholy (22-Apr-1988)
Switching Channels (4-Mar-1988) · Roy Ridnitz
The Trouble with Spies (4-Dec-1987) · Harry Lewis
The Fourth Protocol (28-Aug-1987)
The Big Easy (27-Mar-1987)
Back to School (13-Jun-1986) · Dean Martin
Konrad (13-Oct-1985)
Restless Natives (Jun-1985)
The Last Days of Pompeii (6-May-1984)
Celebrity (12-Feb-1984)
Touched (Oct-1983) · Herbie
Stroker Ace (16-Sep-1983) · Clyde Torkle
The Toy (10-Dec-1982) · Mr. Morehouse
The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (29-Jun-1982)
A Woman Called Golda (26-Apr-1982)
Splendor in the Grass (26-Oct-1981)
Superman II (19-Jun-1981) · Otis
The Incredible Shrinking Woman (30-Jan-1981) · Dan Beame
Hopscotch (10-Oct-1980) · Myerson
All God’s Children (28-Apr-1980)
Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (15-Apr-1980)
The American Success Company (Mar-1980)
1941 (14-Dec-1979) · Ward Douglas
Wise Blood (24-Oct-1979) · Hoover Shoates
Friendly Fire (22-Apr-1979)
Promises in the Dark (1979)
Superman (15-Dec-1978) · Otis
The Great Bank Hoax (Nov-1978)
Gray Lady Down (10-Mar-1978) · Mickey
Alambrista! (16-Oct-1977)
Exorcist II: The Heretic (17-Jun-1977) · Edwards
Our Town (30-May-1977)
Mikey and Nicky (21-Dec-1976)
Silver Streak (3-Dec-1976) · Sweet
Network (27-Nov-1976) · Arthur Jensen
The Big Bus (22-Oct-1976)
All the President’s Men (7-Apr-1976) · Dardis
The Deadly Tower (18-Oct-1975)
Nashville (11-Jun-1975)
W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings (21-May-1975)
Attack on Terror: The FBI vs. the Ku Klux Klan (20-Feb-1975)
The Execution of Private Slovik (13-Mar-1974)
White Lightning (22-Oct-1973)
The Last American Hero (27-Jul-1973)
The Thief Who Came to Dinner (Mar-1973)
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (18-Dec-1972)
Footsteps (3-Oct-1972)
Deliverance (30-Jul-1972)

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