A personable Everyman with a knack for both deadpan comedy and heavy drama, Craig T. Nelson was a Los Angeles-based comic and gag writer before making his acting debut in 1971. Featured in largely minor roles for much of the 1970s and early 1980s, he hit pay dirt as the protective father of a suburban family under attack by supernatural forces in the monster summer hit, "Poltergeist" (1982). Television brought him wider exposure as the star of two popular series: the long-running sitcom "Coach" (ABC, 1989-1997) followed by the gritty crime drama "The District" (CBS, 2000-04). Despite his busy schedule, Nelson continued to keep a hand in TV movies and theatrical features, most notably as the voice of the super-heroic Mr. Incredible in the acclaimed animated Pixar feature "The Incredibles" (2004). After many more supporting turns and guest appearances, fans welcomed the actor's return to a regular series role as Zeek Braverman, the even-keeled patriarch of a large, eclectic clan in the Ron Howard-produced dramedy series, "Parenthood" (NBC, 2010-15). Steady as a rock, the always reliable Nelson continued to anchor projects of any timbre or genre, much to the delight of audiences everywhere.
Born Craig Richard Nelson in Spokane, WA on April 4, 1944, he changed his middle name to Theodore after discovering through the Screen Actors Guild that another actor shared his name. The son of a big band drummer who died when Nelson was young, he studied at the University of Arizona and Central Washington University before heading south to Los Angeles. There, he made his name as a stand-up comedian and writer for the popular radio and television duo of Al Lohman and Roger Barkley. Writing gigs for comedy series like "The Tim Conway Show" (CBS, 1970) introduced him to other up-and-coming talent like Barry Levinson. He also dabbled in acting in the early 1970s. Among his credits during this period was as the voice of an irascible stop-motion monster called the God-Idol in the soft-core science fiction parody "Flesh Gordon" in 1974.
Nelson left Hollywood in the mid-Seventies, returning to Spokane, where he held down various jobs to support his wife and family, including school janitor, carpenter and surveyor. The work proved less than fruitful, so he returned to Los Angeles to give acting another shot. An audition for the Levinson-penned legal satire " And Justice for All" (1979) led to his first substantial feature film credit and regular work on television and movies. Nelson's 6'3" height and deep, resonant voice made him a natural go-to for authority figures like police and military officers, and his flexibility as an actor allowed him to play his share of both in dramatic fare and comedies like "Private Benjamin" (1980) and "Stir Crazy" (1980). In 1982, Nelson made the jump to leading man status with his role of Steven Freeling in "Poltergeist," a big-budget supernatural thriller produced and co-written by Steven Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974) fame. Though its barrage of special effects threatened to overwhelm the film's human element, Nelson's performance - alternately dry-witted and emotionally charged - helped to anchor the film as a story about a family facing tremendous and inexplicable odds. A box office smash, "Poltergeist" gave Nelson's career a boost and ushered him into more substantial and varied roles in films and television.
He was fine in dramatic roles, like the overbearing supervisor to nuclear whistleblower Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) in Mike Nichols' "Silkwood" (1983), Tom Cruise's tough football coach in "All the Right Movies" (1983), and a Soviet agent masquerading as a successful television producer in Sam Peckinpah's final film, "The Osterman Weekend" (1983). He also made the jump to the small screen as the heroic U.S. Air Force pilot and father on the short-lived ABC drama "Call to Glory" (ABC, 1983-84). As an actor, he could be enormously sympathetic, as shown by his turn as sports writer Frank De Ford, who struggles to raise his cystic fibrosis-afflicted daughter in "Alex: The Life of a Child" (1986) and as Senator Edward Kennedy in the biopic "The Ted Kennedy, Jr. Story" (1986). He was also one of the few laudable elements of Brian Gibson's dreadful "Poltergeist II: The Other Side" (1986), which offered the unpleasant sight of Nelson vomiting up a colossal, supernaturally charged tequila worm. Despite this misstep, Nelson and Gibson would work together on several additional, considerably better projects, including "Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story" (1989), the Emmy-winning "Drug Wars: The Camarena Story" (1990), and the HBO biopic "The Josephine Baker Story" (1991), in which Nelson gave a crisp turn as gossip columnist Walter Winchell.
Nelson's comedy projects were relatively few during this period, save for supporting roles in the lackluster "Troop Beverly Hills" (1989) and "Turner and Hooch" (1989). But that same year, he reminded television viewers of his comic talent with "Coach," a likable comedy series from Barry Kemp. As college football coach Hayden Fox, Nelson enjoyed enormous chemistry with his co-stars, including Shelley Fabares as his love interest (and later wife), Bill Fagerbakke as his dim assistant coach, and especially veteran TV comic Jerry Van Dyke, whose career received a major jolt thanks to the series. Nelson received some of the best reviews of his acting career for his terrific deadpan work on the series, earning numerous accolades, including a 1992 Emmy for Outstanding Lead in a Comedy Series. He also logged his first hours as a television director on the series, eventually helming some 25 episodes of the show.
Nelson was exceptionally active in other projects during his popular show's network run. His TV movie and miniseries work included the dystopian science fiction effort "The Fire Next Time" (1993), about a family coping with cataclysmic environmental changes, and as Kirk Douglas' estranged son in the drama "Take Me Home Again" (1994). He could also be seen in theaters in supporting roles as a district attorney in Rob Reiner's "Ghosts of Mississippi" (1996) and as a drug dealer in the film version of the long-running play "I'm Not Rappaport" (1996) with Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis. Nelson also played a Donald Trump-esque real estate developer in the overwrought supernatural thriller "The Devil's Advocate" (1997) and reunited with Barry Levinson for an uncredited turn in the media satire "Wag the Dog" (1998).
After "Coach" aired its finale in 1997, Nelson remained a regular presence in TV movies and miniseries. He gave some credence to the ludicrous Peter Benchley adaptation "Creature" (1998), and played real-life bounty hunter Ralph "Papa" Thorson in the pilot for the USA Network drama "The Huntress" (2000-01). Nelson also enjoyed a meaty role as a Cincinnati sheriff determined to halt a museum exhibition of explicit photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe in the Showtime original movie "Dirty Pictures" (2001). But by 2000, Nelson was already hard at work on a new series, "The District." Based on the real-life experiences of New York police commissioner Jack Maple, the series concerned the tough but compassionate chief of Washington D.C.'s police department (Nelson), who oversees a diverse and dedicated staff of detectives and administrators. Though not the ratings and audience smash that "Coach" was, "The District" enjoyed a modest following and earned Nelson another round of critical acclaim. In his free time, Nelson - a longtime racing aficionado, was a frequent and successful participant in numerous celebrity tournaments. In 1994, he launched his own team, Screaming Eagles Racing, which took its name from Hayden Fox's players on "Coach."
Nelson's feature film career rebounded in the mid-2000s with his first voiceover acting role since "Flesh Gordon" in 1974. His comic timing and distinctive voice were put to excellent use in the Pixar feature "The Incredibles" (2004), which cast him as Mr. Incredible, a former superhero now mired in a dead-end desk job while raising his similarly empowered family. A chance to return to crime-fighting brings him face to face with a foe from his past, as well as the realization that a loving husband and father can also be a hero. The recipient of near-universal acclaim from critics and audiences, "The Incredibles" went on to win the 2004 Oscar for Best Animated Feature and Best Achievement in Sound Editing, as well as earning the highest opening weekend grosses of any Pixar feature up until that time.
The success of "The Incredibles" led to a small revival of Nelson's career as a comic actor. He was the likable head of a free-spirited family in "The Family Stone" (2005), and earned big laughs as a tough ice-skating coach to Will Ferrell and Jon Heder's quarreling figures pair in "Blades of Glory" (2007). He was also featured prominently in the third season of "My Name Is Earl" (NBC, 2005-09) as an eccentric prison warden who taps Jason Lee's Earl Hickey to perform all manner of unusual duties for him. A far less wacky role came with another recurring character - this time as power hungry media mogul Robert Dunbrook in several episodes of "CSI: NY" (CBS, 2004- ) during the 2009 season. Back in theaters, Nelson picked up a supporting turn as Ryan Reynolds' domineering, hard-to-please father in the widely popular romantic-comedy, "The Proposal" (2009), co-starring Sandra Bullock as a disliked publishing exec looking to avoid deportation through a hastily arranged marriage.
In yet another regular series role on television, he stepped into the character of patriarch Zeek Braverman on "Parenthood" (NBC, 2010-15), the family comedy-drama based on the 1989 feature film of the same name, directed by Ron Howard, who also produced the series. Despite his ongoing TV commitment, Nelson still found time for occasional feature work. He ably played an executive spared the hardships suffered by so many Americans in the recession drama "The Company Men" (2010), starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper as less fortunate victims of widespread corporate downsizing. The following year, Nelson appeared briefly as a doctor tasked with saving the life of a young woman (AnnaSophia Robb) horrendously mauled by a tiger shark in the inspirational, based-on-fact drama "Soul Surfer" (2011).
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Wrote for "The John Byner Comedy Hour" (CBS)
Took hiatus from comedy and moved to Mount Shasta, CA with family
Was a guest performer on the CBS pilot, "Bachelor at Law"
Returned to Los Angeles to raise financing for documentaries; produced 52 programs syndicated under the title "America Still"
Made feature debut in the Levinson-scripted, "...And Justice for All"; directed by Norman Jewison
Returned to TV in the CBS movie "The Promise of Love"
Co-starred with JoBeth Williams in the Spielberg-produced "Poltergeist"
Co-starred in the Mike Nichols directed "Silkwood"
Played a high school football coach, opposite Tom Cruise, in "All the Right Moves"
Played a US Air Force colonel in the ABC series "Call to Glory"
First association with director Brian Gibson, "Poltergeist II: The Other Side"
Acted the role of Chief Hyde in "Turner and Hooch"
Portrayed Shelly Long's husband in "Troop Beverly Hills"
Played the title role in the ABC sitcom "Coach"; also produced and directed starring in 1992
Played a drug enforcement agent in the Emmy-winning miniseries "Drug Wars: The Camarena Story" (NBC), directed by Brian Gibson
Portrayed Walter Winchell in the HBO movie "The Josephine Baker Story"; directed by Gibson
Starred in the sci-fi miniseries "The Fire Next Time" (CBS)
Played Kirk Douglas's son in the NBC movie "Take Me Home Again"
Executive produced and starred in the ABC movie "Ride with the Wind"; also adapted for the screen from a Harry Grant story
Cast as District Attorney Ed Peters in Rob Reiner's "Ghosts of Mississippi"
Played the Cowboy, a drug dealer, in Herb Gardner's "I'm Not Rappaport"
Reunited with director Barry Levinson in the David Mamet-scripted feature "Wag the Dog"
Portrayed weathy developer Alexander Cullen in "The Devil's Advocate"
Had starring role in the ABC miniseries "Peter Benchley's 'Creature'"
Made Broadway debut in Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness!"
Returned to series TV as the star of the fall CBS crime drama "The District"; also produced and directed
Voiced the character of Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible in the Pixar animated movie "The Incredibles"
Cast as the family patriarch, opposite Diane Keaton, in the holiday comedy "The Family Stone"
Appeared in four episodes of "My Name Is Earl" (NBC) as an eccentric prison warden
Co-starred with Jon Heder and Will Ferrell in the comedy, "Blades of Glory"
Played Ryan Reynolds' father in the comedy "The Proposal"
Was cast as Zeek Braverman on NBC's updated version of the 1989 film, "Parenthood"
Appeared in Matthew McConaughey-starring adventure drama "Gold"
Reprised role of Mr. Incredible in Brad Bird/Pixar's "Incredibles 2"