That actor you knew from everywhere, John Saxon (1935-2020)…

The late John Saxon cameoed as an FBI agent being interviewed by the late Kelly Preston (1962-2020) in Robert Rodriguez’s “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996).  Hard to believe we lost both of these actors in the span of a couple weeks.  2020 has been a horrific year.

2020 has been a heavy-hearted year of great loss.

Beyond the tragic loss of 652,000 people dead worldwide (to date) from the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, or icons such as longtime Civil Rights advocate/congressman John Lewis, we’ve also lost many greats in the entertainment industry.  Just this month, we lost the legendary Olivia de Havilland (“Gone With the Wind”), Kelly Preston (“Space Camp”), and an actor who may not have been a household name, but he was certainly a household face.  That man was John Saxon (1935-2020).  Saxon was one of those actors you saw everywhere in TV and films if you grew up in the 1970s 1980s, 1990s, or even this decade.  His IMDb page was humongous, with guest appearances in projects big and small, mainstream and independent.  In fact, his last project, “After the Thunderstorm” (an independent sci-fi project) was still in production, and slated for release next year.

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The athletic Saxon as the villainous Roper believably held his own against martial-arts legend Bruce (freakin’) Lee!

I’ve been a fan of Saxon’s work for as long as I can remember, even when I didn’t know his name.  From his appearances in such television staples as “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “The Night Gallery,” “Fantasy Island,” “Dynasty,” “Falcon Crest” and countless others.  On the silver screen, he was seen in Roger Corman’s “Queen of Blood” (aka “Planet of Blood”) (1966), Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” (1973),  “Battle Beyond The Stars”  (1980), “Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996) and many more.  It seemed as though Saxon was just there; a mainstay of the entertainment landscape I grew up watching.  Until recently, I almost didn’t realize he was just one person in all of these films and shows.

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Saxon as Lt. Thompson in the iconic horror classic, “The Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984).  His work in multiple genres gave him broad exposure and appreciation from  many different kinds of fans.

Saxon’s philosophy for working was very simple; if there was work, he did it.  From high tier projects and TV shows to low-budget indie horror and sci-fi flicks, he was a true working actor, playing heroes and villains (or ambiguous mixes of both) with the same energy and aplomb he gave to every project.

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John Saxon gives Lee Majors’ “Six Million Dollar Man” a thorough clock-cleaning as a villainous robot posing as Steve Austin’s buddy, Major Fred Sloan.  The robot Sloan’s various robotic sound effects were also the first time we heard the now-familiar ‘bionic sounds’ that would later be associated with Austin’s character.

I only met Saxon once, at WonderCon in Anaheim back in 2013.  He was the same age as my father-in-law, and was the picture of fitness.  Trim, athletic-looking and looking ready to do just about anything.  Standing next to this man, I felt like a human garbage truck.  It’s very difficult to imagine that man dying of pneumonia.

John Saxon in Curtis Harrington’s “Queen of Blood” (aka “Planet of Blood”) from 1966.  The film was produced by prolific filmmaker Roger Corman, and is very clearly an early influence for the later 1979 blockbuster “ALIEN.” 

In our seven or so minute chat, we talked about his past roles in “Enter the Dragon,” as well as “Battle Beyond the Stars” and “Queen of Blood” (an early 1960s inspiration/precursor to 1979’s “ALIEN”).  I, of course, asked for his autograph, but the hardest part was deciding which photo from his table I wanted signed. There were so many roles to choose from.  Ultimately I chose a glossy pic of Saxon as “Sador” from “Battle Beyond the Stars,” because he seemed to really relish playing the one-armed despotic warlord of that fun flick.  According to Saxon, he really did too…

Saxon as the one-armed space warlord “Sador” in the space-based Roger Corman produced “Battle Beyond the Stars” (1980); a campy, scrappy reimagining of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.”

Saxon was a man born to be in front of the camera.  His influence across multiple genres and mediums is arguably far greater than any one ‘star’ known only for specific dramatic material.  Saxon didn’t seem to have a ‘type’, either; hero, villain, romantic lead, supporting role, it didn’t matter.  He did it all, and threw himself into the work.

Saxon told me that he really relished playing the bad guy.

John Saxon’s fans range across the entire entertainment spectrum.  Action, martial-arts, science-fiction, horror, drama…you name it, he did it.  Saxon was a solid, reliable performer possessed of a solid work ethic.  The prolific actor seemed to relish the process.

John Saxon’s broad influence in the entertainment industry will be cherished, and he will be missed.

My own pic of John Saxon, from WonderCon 2013 in Anaheim.  A trim, athletic, vigorous man.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Gerry says:

    Who told you Riper was a villain? He was Bruce Lee’s sidekick in Enter The Dragon

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    1. I was just recalling the character’s earlier moral ambiguity (the fact that he was initially intrigued by crime lord Han’s offer to join him), but yes, ‘villain’ is not really accurate, you’re right. There was, initially at least, a morally dubious, Lando Calrissian-quality to the character.

      And it’s ‘Roper,’ not Riper. Guess we each goofed (?) 😉

      Like

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