Actor Christopher Jones has died at the age of 72. In his ’60s heyday, Jones was sometimes compared to James Dean, and though he lived a lot longer, his Hollywood career was almost as brief. After studying with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio, Jones made his Broadway debut in 1961 in Tennessee Williams’ Night Of The Iguana. He then landed the starring role in the TV series The Legend Of Jesse James (1965-1966).
He also married Lee Strasberg’s daughter, Susan, with whom he co-starred in his first movie, Chubasco (1967). They divorced in 1968.
Jones’ best-remembered role was probably Max Frost, the Machiavellian rock star in the drive-in classic Wild In The Streets (1968), directed by Barry Shear for American International Pictures. As the price of his endorsement, Frost compels a politician to get behind a movement to lower the legal voting age to 14, then runs for president, gets elected, and consigns everyone over 30 to internment camps, where they’re forcibly dosed with LSD to keep them docile. That same year, Jones played a campus Casanova named Paxton Quigley in another fondly remembered A.I.P. vehicle, Three In The Attic.
Jones made the leap to bigger pictures with the 1969 John le Carré adaptation The Looking Glass War, then played the young romantic lead in the David Lean epic Ryan’s Daughter (1970). Jones and Lean did not get along, and after the troubled production went twice as long as its planned six-month shooting schedule, Jones quietly retired from acting. Rumors swirled around Jones in the wake of his disappearance; in one of the more benign ones, his Ryan’s Daughter co-star Sarah Miles implied that he must have been a closeted homosexual, to account for his palpable lack of interest in their love scenes together. In 2007, Jones told an interviewer that he had been having an affair with the actress Sharon Tate in the months leading up to her death at the hands of the Manson Family, and that his growing disenchantment with acting had been intensified by his confusion and grief over her murder.
In 1994, professed fan Quentin Tarantino tried to give Jones one of his special career revivals, offering him the role of Zed—on whose ass Ving Rhames famously vows to “get medieval”--in Pulp Fiction. Jones’ decision not to come out retirement after almost a quarter of a century, just to take on the small role of a back-room rapist, may be less surprising than his agreeing, two years later, to appear briefly in Mad Dog Time, a flashy but incomprehensible gangster-movie pastiche written and directed by Tarantino sidekick Larry Bishop. The movie at least gave Jones the chance to confirm his charisma was intact—though, as Tarantino later assessed in an episode of E! True Hollywood Story, Jones “doesn’t really have a character to play in that movie.”
Aside from Mad Dog Time, Jones wasn’t seen on screen for the last 33 years of his life. In later years, he supported himself as a painter and sculptor.