The actor won an Emmy for portraying doomed cult leader Jim Jones.
Powers Boothe had a screen presence that lived up to his name.
The actor, who died Sunday at the age of 68, had an intensity onscreen that made you want to back up a few steps. His matinee idol good looks were subsumed by this force of will, which often led the actor to be cast as heavies, villains, madmen – and politicians.
“The heavies are more fun,” the actor told American Profile magazine in 2014. “And I think they’re more interesting.”
Boothe died in his sleep from apparent natural causes, his publicist, Karen Samfilippo, tells EW. His death first broke online through longtime friend Beau Bridges, who tweeted: “It’s with great sadness that I mourn the passing of my friend Powers Boothe. A dear friend, great actor, devoted father & husband.”
Boothe made his national breakthrough in 1980 starring as a true-life demagogue and cult-leader in the CBS docudrama Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, putting his menacing charisma into overdrive as the preacher who led 980 of his followers to commit mass suicide. Released just two years after the real incident, Boothe won an Emmy for his portrayal, which drew dialogue from real tapes recorded by Jones as he instructed his flock to consume poisoned fruit punch.
If the performance typecast him as a roguish megalomaniac, there was still no shortage of roles for Boothe. He was the grinning, sociopathic “Curly Bill,” terrorizing the citizens of 1993’s Tombstone, and the lawman’s old friend turned bloodthirsty drug trafficker in 1987’s Extreme Prejudice. On HBO’s Deadwood, he played the volatile, ruthless saloon owner Cy Tolliver, who was just as deadly to his “friends” as he was to his rivals, and in 1995’s Sudden Death, he was the CIA agent holding the Vice President hostage at a hockey arena.
There were scattered good-guys throughout his filmography. The downed U.S. Air Force pilot who joins up with the ragtag Wolverine resistance against Communist invaders in 1984’s Red Dawn; the father searching the Amazon for his lost child in 1985’s The Emerald Forest; and he stepped into Humphrey Bogart’s fedora as Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective for the 1983-86 HBO series Philip Marlowe, Private Eye.
Mostly, Boothe walked that line between good and evil, displaying a ferociousness that was intimidating and a strength that was appealing, even endearing. He was the base commander in 1994’s Blue Sky, who has an affair with Jessica Lange, the wife of his chief nuclear engineer. He played stoic White House Chief Of Staff Gen. Alexander Haig, who brings bad news to an unraveling president in Oliver Stone’s 1995 drama Nixon. And Boothe was the disbelieving FBI agent, listening to the increasingly shocking story of a man who says his father hunted and killed demons who were posing as people in 2001’s Frailty (directed by his Tombstone costar Bill Paxton.)
In recent years, Boothe played the vice president who ascends to the highest office after the president is debilitated in Season 6 of Fox’s 24, and he played off his ominous presence as Col. Jim Faith, supervising Will Forte’s ingenious (but hapless) special operative in the 2010 cult-favorite comedy MacGruber. In Marvel’s The Avengers and ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. he played nefarious World Security Council leader Gideon Malick, and on TV’s Nashville, he played the manipulative, wealthy father of Connie Britton’s country star Rayna Jaymes.
Boothe was born and raised in tiny Snyder, Texas (population: 11,000, give or take). He was the youngest of three sons to a sharecropper farmer. In west Texas, he saw either a future in oil or farming, and opted instead to go to college – becoming the first person in his family to do so.
During his time at Texas State University, he discovered a career, theater, and his wife Pam, whom he married in 1969. They had two children, daughter Parisse, and son Preston.
There will be a private service held in Texas, Samfilippo says, and a public memorial celebration in his honor is being considered for a future date. Donations can be made to the Gary Sinise Foundation, for nation’s service members, veterans, first responders, and their families.
While there is no shortage of roles to remember him by, it’s worth noting that Boothe was an actor who could do a great deal with very little. A scene or two. Even just a few words. Consider Tombstone and the moment when his victorious cowboy gang-boss casually dismisses a broken Wyatt Earp.
It may seem ironic, but there’s no better way to say farewell to Powers Boothe than to show what he could do with only two damn words.