Actor Michael Parks was a relatively obscure but intriguing talent who might have been forgotten following prime time turns in "Then Came Bronson" (ABC, 1969-70) and "The Colbys" (ABC, 1985-87) had he not been "unearthed" by directors like David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith in the 1990s and 2000s. Straddling an awkward era between edgy method actors of the 1950s and anti-establishment icons of the 1960s, Parks had difficulty finding roles that showcased his unique, charismatic talent and, combined with his disinterest in Hollywood positioning, meant he was often relegated to B-movies. Beginning in the 1990s, he enjoyed a string of more artistic endeavors in projects like "Twin Peaks" (ABC, 1990-91), "Kill Bill" (2003), "Argo" (2012) and "Tusk" (2014). His death on May 9, 2017 at the age of 77 was mourned by fans of all phases of his long and varied career. .
Michael Parks was born Harry Samuel Parks on April 24, 1940, in Corona, CA. He spent a peripatetic youth moving around the West as one of five children. By his teens, he was an itinerant laborer, drifting from job to job around California. Briefly married at 15, Parks displayed an interest in the arts with his love of poetry and occasional roles in regional theater productions during his travels. His rugged looks -- a more weathered version of James Dean -- were discovered in 1960, when Parks was signed to a Universal contract, despite spending much of his time on the sidelines due to a reputation for being hard to work with. He made guest appearances on over a dozen TV shows before starring roles in features like "Wild Seed" (1965) and "Bus Riley's Back in Town"(1965) began to earn him comparisons with Dean and Brando, due in large part to his nonchalant acting style and non-conformist persona. Continuing to pay his dues like any contract player of the day, he played Adam in John Huston's "The Bible" (1966) and went on to star in a number of films throughout the sixties until he found what seemed to be the perfect vehicle: the TV series "Then Came Bronson."
The actor's natural wanderlust and real-life residency outside the norms of mainstream America were the ideal fit for his role as a Bay Area professional who, upon the wish of a dying friend (Martin Sheen), quits his square gig and devotes himself to an unpredictable life traveling the country on a Harley. The show had an instant following of anti-establishment sympathizers and bikers drawn to Parks' low-key, often improvised, sometimes mumbled dialogue. He even sang the wistful country theme, "Long Lonesome Highway," which became a top 40 hit. "Bronson" lasted only 26 episodes, but it helped launch a recording career for Parks and the show lived on with a cult audience for decades to come.
Parks followed up his first real moment in the sun by taking a job as a casket upholsterer. He reportedly turned down an offer to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates around the same time. Parks took to living in houseboats off the coast of California and Oregon and hanging out with artists like French filmmaker Jean Renoir and writer Terry Southern.
The unorthodox Parks continued to make film and TV appearances throughout the 1970s. He showed up on all the big cop shows of the day and churned out movies like "The Werewolf in Woodstock" (1975). His acting chops did get attention in 1977 when he portrayed Bobby Kennedy in "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover." He enjoyed meatier roles in independent films of the early 1980s including the rural drama "Hard Country" (1980) and the family picture "Savannah Smiles" (1982). Parks returned to television as Phillip Colby on the "Dynasty" (ABC 1981-89) spinoff "The Colbys" (ABC 1985-87).
Still not one to play the Hollywood game, Parks moved to New Orleans and several years later brought his newly adopted regional accent to David Lynch's offbeat series "Twin Peaks" (ABC, 1990-91) - though reportedly his character Jean Renault did not originally call for the accent but David Lynch was such a fan of Parks, he gave him carte blanche to do whatever he liked. Parks shot the indie film "Storyville" (1992) and Charles Bronson's action drama "Death Wish V: The Face of Death" (1994) before Quentin Tarantino entered the picture. Parks had first heard from Tarantino years earlier, when the unknown director contacted him to tell him how much he admired his acting and promised to write a role for him someday. When that day came, Parks was living in houseboat in Seattle but gladly answered the call to create Texas Ranger Earl McGraw for the B-movie sendup "From Dusk till Dawn" (1996). (Parks later played the lead role of Ambrose Bierce in the straight-to-video prequel "From Dusk 'Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter" (2000).) Such was the impression he had made on Tarantino, Parks revived Earl McGraw in "Kill Bill Vol.1" (2003) and in "Kill Bill Vol.2" (2004), making an about face playing an 80-year-old ex-pimp.
That was far from the end of the Tarantino association. In 2007, Parks appeared as McGraw in the "Planet Terror" and "Death Proof" segments of Tarantino's and Robert Rodriguez' "Grindhouse" (2007). Parks also appeared in an adaptation of Larry Brown's work entitled "Big Bad Love" (2001), the Italian thriller "The Listener" (2006), and "Fighting Words" (2007), a drama set in the world of poetry slams. After co-starring in Kevin Smith's horror film "Red State" (2011) and appearing as comic book legend Jack Kirby in Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning "Argo" (2012), Parks reteamed with Tarantino for a supporting role in "Django Unchained" (2012). Continuing his work in indie horror films, Parks appeared in cannibal drama "We Are What We Are" (2013) and starred in Smith's "Tusk" (2015). Parks' final film released in his lifetime was the 2016 sports drama "Greater" (2016). Michael Parks died on May 9, 2017 at the age of 77.
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Animation (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Made screen-acting debut on an episode of "Zane Grey Theater"
Had a memorable turn in "Wild Seed"
Played the title character in "Bus Riley's Back in Town"
Played Adam in "The Bible: In the Beginning..."
Had breakout role of Jim Bronson on the short-lived cult series "Then Came Bronson"
Appeared in "The Wild World of Mystery" episode "The Werewolf in Woodstock"
Played Robert F. Kennedy in "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover"
Appeared as Royce in "Hard Country"
Played Lt. Savage in family film "Savannah Smiles"
Cast as Philip Colby in "Dynasty" spinoff "The Colbys"
Appeared as the nefarious Jean Renault in David Lynch's "Twin Peaks"
Cast opposite Charles Bronson in "Death Wish V: The Face of Death"
Played a Texas Ranger in Robert Rodriguez's "From Dusk till Dawn"
Made first appearance in a Quentin Tarantino film as Earl McGraw in "Kill Bill Vol. 1"
Reprised Earl McGraw role in Tarantino's "Kill Bill Vol. 2"
Played Earl McGraw yet again in the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature "Grindhouse"
Played police commissioner Henry Craig in Andrew Dominik's unloved masterpiece "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"
Portrayed comic book legend Jack Kirby in Ben Affleck's Oscar-winning "Argo"
Re-teamed with Quentin Tarantino in "Django Unchained"
Appeared in indie horror film "We Are What We Are"
Re-teamed with Kevin Smith in "Tusk"
Made film screen appearance in his lifetime in sports drama "Greater"