Actor Joseph Pilato has died at the age of 70. Pilato’s credits included the horror movies Effects and Wishmaster. He was also cast in Pulp Fiction, although his role as a Dean Martin lookalike in Quentin Tarantino’s film ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor. But Pilato was beloved by genre fans for his portrayal of the bombastic, tyrannical, and foul-mouthed Captain Rhodes in George Romero’s 1985 zombie film Day of the Dead, the concluding movie in the director’s original undead trilogy.
“I was pretty left of center politically and was very influenced by my anti-Vietnam war experience,” Pilato once told the U.K.’s Horror Channel. “I was chased and maced in the streets of Boston and Washington D.C. by tactical police. So, Rhodes was everything antithetical to my political belief and it’s usually very easy to play an opposite or villainous character.”
Pilato’s death was confirmed by Eibon Press’ Stephen Romano, with whom the actor had collaborated on the comic Bottom Feeder.
“It was originally to be a film project, which was developed for him to star in, with his input on the character.” Romano said, via email. “He was to play a tough Bad Lieutenant-style cop facing down a hideous monster. Eventually we made it into a three-issue limited series of graphic novels at Eibon, with his collaboration. Joe modeled for the character in hundreds of reference photos, from which our artist drew the books. And Joe even voiced his character’s lines in a special accompanying audio recording. We actually recorded Joe during one of his many hospital stays, last year. He was our great friend and a true original. We will miss him.”
Directors Joe Lynch (Mayhem, Everly) and Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) have also paid tribute to Pilato.
“Before Tarantino or Mamet made the word ‘F—‘ part of their poetry, actor Joe Pilato used “F—!” like it was bullets in a Tommy gun in DAY OF THE DEAD, one of Horror’s most memorable (human) monsters,” Lynch wrote on Twitter. “Sad to hear of his passing but he left quite a F—ING role with us.”
“We’ve lost Joe Pilato, who gave horror fans a horrible, broken – and scared – villain for the ages,” wrote Geoghegan. “Captain Rhodes is the ultimate Romero monster. The human ghouls in NIGHT and DAWN couldn’t prepare us for how truly horrible men could be when backed into a corner.”