Walter Olkewicz has died. A prominent character actor probably best known for his roles on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks—first as sinister bartender/card-dealer Jacques Renault in the original series, and then as another vice-invested Renault, Jean-Michael, in The Return—Olkewicz was a fixture on ’80s and ’90s TV. Per Variety, his death was confirmed today by his son, Zachary. He was 72.
Born in New Jersey, Olkewicz—per a bio he penned himself a few years back—got his start in the entertainment industry in comedy and writing, penning jokes for The New Dating Game, before landing a role in Steven Spielberg’s 1941. From there, his large frame, distinctive face, and knack for comedy opened a wide series of doors, scoring roles in Taxi, Cheers, The Love Boat, Newhart, and many other mainstays of ’80s comedy. More regular gigs during the period including a starring role on the short-lived The Last Resort, and CBS’s attempt to import swords-and-sandals fantasy into primetime TV, Wizards And Warriors.
Olkewicz worked steadily throughout the 1980s and ’90s, appearing on everything from Family Ties to The A-Team to Dolly Parton’s variety series Dolly, where he had a regular role. (Similarly, he co-starred for four seasons on Brett Butler’s Grace Under Fire, his longest recurring gig.) In 1990, Olkewicz scored the part of Jacques Renault on Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks, investing what could have been a throwaway part with a sinister vibe that meshed well with the debauched world of One-Eyed Jack’s. Lynch liked working with the actor enough that he brought him back for 2017's Twin Peaks: The Return, playing a character implied to be a relative of Jacques’ (and still operating far on the wrong side of the law).
It would be one of the final roles of the actor’s career, though, a brief return to the screen after recurring health problems sidelined him as an actor from 2000 onward. It was right around then that a lingering series of knee infections forced Olkewicz to undergo numerous surgeries; a news story from a few years into this period details how his son, Zachary, was forced to drop out of high school to care for his ailing father. (And how he managed to score a perfect score on the GED, even so.) Although unable to walk or stand for prolonged periods, Olkewicz continued to work in the theater, starting his own company, The Jewel Box, which he founded in 1998, and continuing to serve as artistic director for the group for several years. In later years, though, both his health and finances appeared to have declined considerably; he launched a series of crowdfunding efforts to help pay for treatments for his leg in the mid-2010s, but to apparently unsuccessful effect. The Return was his final credit.
Olkewicz is survived by his son, and two grandchildren.