Numerous sources have reported the death of G.D. Spradlin, a former lawyer, oilman, and politician who used the leisure time afforded by his wealth to develop a successful second-wind career as a character actor in movies like Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Part II, often playing the exact sort of powerful men he was in real life. Spradlin died of natural causes at the age of 90.
Having spent most of his days working as an attorney for large oil companies and then striking it rich on his own—with a minor detour into politics, campaigning for John F. Kennedy and running unsuccessfully for mayor—Spradlin came to acting as a dilettante lark, beginning on stage and then landing numerous TV roles in the 1960s. Most of these came from producer Fred Roos, who cast Spradlin in shows like Gomer Pyle and I Spy, then recommended him to director Francis Ford Coppola when Roos went on to produce most of Coppola’s films after The Godfather. It was through Roos and Coppola that Spradlin found one of his most famous parts, that of the sleazy, bigoted Senator Pat Geary in The Godfather Part II, whose politician’s smile and good ol’ boy accent mask the fact that he’s every bit as corrupt as the mobsters he claims to despise.
Coppola would use Spradlin’s authoritarian airs again in Apocalypse Now, signing him up to play General Corman, who assigns Martin Sheen to assassinate Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz. Spradlin’s folksy matter-of-factness about the mission is expressed philosophically—and sympathetically—in his musing on the way “things get confused out there” in war, and how “the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature,” with Spradlin putting a wise, kindly, human face on a horrible necessity. (Unfortunately that specific speech is not available on YouTube, but here’s an extended version of that same scene.)
Spradlin also made for a natural coach, heading up a basketball team in One On One and a raucous football squad in North Dallas Forty. His other military roles included MacArthur, The Lords Of Discipline, and the miniseries War And Rememberance, while he also gravitated toward policeman characters like the corrupt sheriff targeted by James Garner in Tank. Spradlin also played several presidents, including Lyndon Johnson in the TV movie Robert Kennedy And His Times, Andrew Jackson in Houston: The Legend Of Texas, and a fictional President in The Long Kiss Goodnight. And he often played that persona for laughs in films like The War Of The Roses (as a divorce lawyer), Clifford, Canadian Bacon, Ed Wood (as Reverend Lemon, the preacher unwittingly conned into bankrolling Plan 9 From Outer Space), and his final screen role in Dick, where he starred as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. For a rich guy who didn’t have to do anything, he certainly did a lot.
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