He was one of the movies’ great man’s men. Powers Boothe had a jaw as square as as an actual square, a gravelly voice stained by nicotine. He stood 6’2” — a menace even when he played good guys. Perhaps he was born half a century too late; had he been around in the ’40s, he would have been the villain in every Western, or at least the good guy plagued by the knowledge that he could turn bad at the drop of a hat. Instead, he was born in the ’40s, and he made his living haunting the screens from the ’80s on.
Boothe has passed away, at the relatively young age of 68. Unlike many of his characters, he went out peacefully, in his sleep, due to natural causes.
Boothe was an easy actor to cast. If you needed a taciturn military man or a shady government agent, he was your man. His CV is littered with Lieutenants and Colonels and Sheriffs, from “Red Dawn” through “Blue Sky” through “U Turn.” Oliver Stone cast him in the latter and as Alexander Haig in “Nixon.” Marvel gave his profile a boost in the last years of his life with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” on which he played Gideon Malick, a World Security Council member no one was surprised to learn was secretly in cahoots with the nefarious Hydra.
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When Boothe played decent men, they tended to be conflicted. His breakthrough came with 1981’s “Southern Comfort,” by Walter Hill, one of the great poets of the macho anti-hero. He was the ideal Hill actor, and the filmmaker cast him again in 1987’s grinder “Extreme Prejudice,” and once more in “Deadwood.” As saloon owner Cy Tolliver, he fit right into a cast of ne’er-do-wells who spent every episode trying to see which one was the bigger, swearier asshole.
Boothe played plenty of all-out villains, including the crooked Senator Roark in both “Sin City” movies. Far as villainous Boothe roles go, we always have a soft spot for his dirty, furious turn as Curly Joe Brocius in 1993’s “Tombstone.” He’s the gang leader who lures Kurt Russell’s Wyatt Earp and team into the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and he’s pure hissable — the cold-blooded lunatic you can’t wait to see plugged in the name of peace.
Boothe’s sudden passing leaves a hole in the movies and on television. He was a throwback to a manlier era that is disappearing with the death of every great macho legend. (And his death comes less than a week after the passing of Michael Parks — another piece of work you could never trust but also never ignore.) Boothe might not have been a household name, but like every great character actor who passes on into the infinite, you’ll notice when he’s gone.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge