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R.I.P. Earl Boen, veteran voice actor and Terminator co-star

Boen appeared as hapless psychologist Dr. Silberman in the first three Terminator movies

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Earl Boen in T2
Earl Boen in T2
Photo: CBS via Getty Images

Earl Boen has died. A veteran character and voice actor, Boen will be most familiar to film audiences for his role in the first three Terminator films, playing the endlessly tormented Dr. Peter Silberman in The Terminator, T2: Judgment Day, and Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines. With a track record spanning sitcoms, dramas, video games, action movies, and pretty much anything else an actor might’ve put his talents toward in the second half of the 20th century, Boen accrued almost 300 credited roles across a 40-plus year career. Per Variety, he died this week in Hawaii, after being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer last year. Boen was 81.

Boen made his name first and foremost in TV comedy: His early resumé, from the mid-’70s onward, is dotted with many of the biggest sitcoms of the era, including MASH, Three’s Company, Barnaby Jones, and more. Even as a young man, Boen’s hangdog face and gift for the dour made him a regular presence on shows looking to inject a little wry, glum wit into their ensembles for an episode; although he occasionally settled into a longer role (including a single-season stint on It’s A Living in 1981), Boen would remain a “freelancer” for most of his career.

A brief foray into sci-fi film in 1980 would pay big career dividends, though; Battle Beyond The Stars might mostly be remembered today as Roger Corman’s shockingly blatant attempt to rip-off Star Wars, but it was also where Boen—playing the lead member of a crew of pancake makeup-covered clones—first worked with its art director, an amateur filmmaker and model maker named James Cameron. Four years later, Cameron would cast Boen in his feature film debut, The Terminator.

Dr Silberman questions Kyle Reese - The Terminator (Cameron, 1984)

Condescending, skeptical, and barely stifling a yawn as he interviews a desperate Michael Biehn, Dr. Peter Silberman is the face of disbelieving humanity across the first three Terminator films. It’s a part that drew heavily on Boen’s gifts for comedy, while also being a vital component of the clockwork delivery of Cameron’s time-jumping plot. (It’s Silberman, after all, who asks all the nit-picky questions about time travel and future wars that are likely kicking around in viewers’ heads by this point.) In Boen’s hands, he’s the perfect human villain for a franchise like Terminator: A small, smug little man who continually gets his world blown up by badass renegades and unstoppable killing machines. It was a memorable enough role, in fact, that Boen became the only performer besides Arnold Schwarzenegger to appear in all three films, popping up for a brief scene (and then an even quicker escape) in Terminator 3.

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That was Boen’s last on-screen role, as it happens, retiring from screen acting at the age of 62. Instead, he put his energies toward his increasingly prolific voice acting career, building on a side of his career he’d been developing since working on the G.I. Joe cartoon in the 1980s. (And, shortly after, a part near and dear to the hearts of adventure game nerds of a certain generation: The Ghost Pirate LeChuck, the villain of Lucasarts’ Monkey Island games, which he would play from 1990 to 2010.) Boen’s deep, rich voice lent itself well to villains, although not exclusively: He also had a semi-regular role on the animated version of Clifford: The Big Red Dog, hearkening back to his career-long love of comedy.