Anthony James, a character actor who gave memorable performances in the movie classics In The Heat of the Night and Unforgiven, died Tuesday from cancer in Massachusetts. He was 77. The actor was known for a tall, lanky appearance, which made him perfect for the villain roles he was often cast in. He worked with Clint Eastwood on High Plains Drifter and Unforgiven.
James was born Jimmy Anthony, but he changed his name professionally to Anthony James after discovering another actor had the same name. He was born in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on July 22, 1942, according to his obituary. In high school, he showed an early interest in art and won a prize for a drawing. After graduating, he moved to Hollywood where he took acting classes. His mother cleaned houses and James cleaned bathrooms to pay for the classes.
According to James' IMDb page, his first role was an uncredited part in a 1966 episode of T.H.E. Cat, but his breakthrough came in 1967, when he played Ralph, the racist diner employee, in Norman Jewison's In The Heat of the Night. The film won five Oscars, including Best Picture. James was quickly typecast due to his tall, lanky look, which fit right in with Westerns. He found roles in The Big Valley, Gunsmoke and Bonanza on television.
In 1992, Eastwood cast James as Skinny Dubois in Unforgiven, which would win the Oscar for Best Picture of 1992. Other late credits include The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear, Mortuary Academy, World Gone Wild and episodes of Father Dowling Mysteries, Married... With Children, Beauty and the Beast, Amazing Stories and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Other credits include episodes of The A-Team, V, Riptide, Knight Rider, Hunter, The Fall Guy, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Quincy M.E.
After Unforgiven, James retired and moved to New England. He spent the rest of his life focusing on paintings, which were featured in galleries in Boston, San Francisco, Santa Fe, New York and Japan. In 1994, he published a book of paintings and poems called Language of the Heart. In 2014, he published a memoir, Acting My Face.
James never married and is survived by his friends, who stayed by his side before his death. In lieu of flowers, fans can make donations in his memory to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.