Noble Willingham

C. D. Parker in 'Walker, Texas Ranger'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Noble Willingham, actor: born Mineola, Texas 31 August 1931; married Patti Ross (one son, two daughters); died Palm Springs, California 17 January 2004.

The role of the saloon-restaurant owner C. D. Parker in the American television series Walker, Texas Ranger fitted the character actor Noble Willingham like a glove when he stepped into it at the age of 61. "He's a classic example of what growing up in the South means," said one of his co-stars, Sheree J. Wilson. "He's friendly and welcoming and loves to talk to people."

CD's Bar & Grill specialised in country music and western dancing, but C.D. Parker could never completely leave behind his past career as a ranger, from which he had retired after being shot in the knee. C.D. was a constant source of advice for Cordell Walker (played by Chuck Norris), the modern-day Texas law enforcer whose crime-fighting methods owed much to the old school of using fists and guns.

Willingham himself was born in Mineola, Texas, in 1931 and graduated in Economics from North Texas State College, Denton, and Educational Psychology from Baylor University, Waco, before becoming a teacher of economics and government at Sam Houston High School in Houston.

He finally realised his ambition to act when, in 1970, he was encouraged by a drama teacher at the school to audition for a small role in Peter Bogdanovich's film The Last Picture Show (1971), shot on location in Texas. Bogdanovich promised Willingham another job if he travelled to Los Angeles and, as a result, he appeared in Paper Moon (1973).

This launched him on a new career and he acted in 40 feature films, including Chinatown (1974), The Howling (1981) and Ace Ventura: pet detective (1994). He was the brigadier-general sympathetic to Robin Williams's manic forces disc-jockey in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and Clay Stone in the comedies City Slickers (1991) and City Slickers II: the legend of Curly's gold (1994). He also took dozens of one-off character roles on television.

He left Walker, Texas Ranger (1993-99) to stand as the Republican candidate for the First Congressional District of Texas in the 2000 elections for the US House of Representatives but was defeated by the sitting Democratic Party candidate. The actor also founded the Noble Willingham Foundation, which donated most of its profits to the all-black Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas.

Willingham is still to be seen as a deputy sheriff in the feature film Blind Horizon (2004), a thriller set in a small desert town in New Mexico and starring Val Kilmer and Sam Shepard.

Anthony Hayward