Actor Scott Wilson, best known for his roles as an itinerant murderer in “In Cold Blood” and as moral compass Hershel Greene on AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” died Saturday after battling leukemia. He was 76.
The news came Saturday night from a statement issued by “The Walking Dead” comic book’s official Twitter. “We are deeply saddened to report that Scott Wilson, the incredible actor who played Hershel on #TheWalkingDead, has passed away,” it read. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends. Rest in paradise, Scott. We love you!”
“Scott will always be remembered as a great actor and we all feel fortunate to have known him as an even better person,” AMC said in an official statement. “The character he embodied on ‘The Walking Dead,’ Hershel, lived at the emotional core of the show.”
Wilson, born William Delano Wilson on March 29, 1942, hailed from Atlanta. Though he was awarded an athletic scholarship in 1960 to Georgia’s Southern Polytechnic State University, he instead spent three days hitchhiking to Los Angeles, where he arrived with $40 in his pocket. After a drunken night, Wilson found himself in an acting class.
After spending more than five years in acting classes and workshops and participating in local plays, Wilson was introduced to casting director Lynn Stalmaster. Stalmaster passed his name on to director Norman Jewison and producer Walter Mirisch, who hired him for the role of murder suspect Harvey Oberst in 1967’s “In the Heat of the Night.”
It was on the set of that film, which went on to win the best picture Oscar, that he developed a relationship with the film’s star, Sidney Poitier. Poitier recommended the 24-year-old Wilson to Richard Brooks, who was adapting Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” Wilson was cast in the highly coveted role of murderer Dick Hickock, who, with drifter Perry Smith (played by Robert Blake), killed four members of the Clutter family in Kansas in 1959.
“Every actor in the English-speaking world wanted those two roles, including (Paul) Newman and (Steve) McQueen,” Wilson told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. “Brooks hired two ‘unknowns,’ and he wanted to keep it that way. We were treated like two killers he had somehow run across.”
Though Wilson struggled to make a name for himself as a character actor for much of his career (“There were some dark holes in my — I don’t know if you want to call it ‘a career’ — in my time out here,” he said in 1996.), he landed supporting roles in 1969’s “Castle Keep” and “The Gypsy Moths,” 1971’s “The Grissom Gang” and 1972’s “The New Centurions.”
“Scott is one of those guys who’s powerful, perversely, because he doesn’t call attention to himself,” said director Steve Klove, who directed Wilson in “Flesh and Bone,” in 1996. “I’d love to find something just for him, to write a movie where he’s the guy.”
He appeared in 1974’s iteration of “The Great Gatsby” as Gatsby’s killer and in the psychological thriller “The Ninth Configuration” as a former astronaut committed inside a military insane asylum, which earned him a Golden Globe supporting actor nomination in 1980. He also had small roles in 1995’s “Dead Man Walking” and 2003’s “Monster.”
On the television side, Wilson had appearances in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and on the sci-fi Netflix series “The OA.”
“I think you always get a credibility out of me,” he said in 1996. “I think you always get a believability out of me.”
Wilson is survived by his wife, Heavenly, an artist and attorney.
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