Richard Lynch: Actor whose scarred appearance made him ideal to play cops and heavies

In ‘God Told Me To’, each murder was presaged by Lynch appearing as a strange, Christ-like figure

John Riley
Wednesday 04 July 2012 02:17 BST
Cult favourite: Lynch in the 1987 American-Italian 'sword and sorcery' film 'Barbarians' as the evil tyrant Kadar
Cult favourite: Lynch in the 1987 American-Italian 'sword and sorcery' film 'Barbarians' as the evil tyrant Kadar (Rex)

The son of an alcoholic, Richard Lynch began using drugs himself. Then in 1967 he had an accident in Central Park, setting himself on fire in the middle of an LSD trip. After massive reconstructive surgery he eventually rebuilt enough confidence to return to acting. His height and distinctive scarred appearance made him ideal casting for villains in sci-fi, fantasy and horror films, and he became a favourite character actor among cult film fans.

Lynch was one of seven children from a Brooklyn-Irish Catholic family; his younger brother Barry also became an actor. Through his parents Lynch held Irish citizenship and frequently visited the country. After a spell in the US Marine Corps, he studied theatre at Herbert Berghof's HB Studio and the Actors' Studio

Lynch appeared in dozens of on- and off-Broadway plays. In 1965 he played Louis XIII opposite Anne Bancroft and Jason Robards in Michael Cacoyannis's production of John Whiting's The Devils. Eleven years later Tony Richardson directed Lynch and Vanessa Redgrave in Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea, and in 1977 he appeared opposite Al Pacino in The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel.

The year after his accident, Lynch appeared with Timothy Leary in the documentary LSD – Trip to Where? The scarring, along with his six-foot frame, brought roles as cops, heavies and the like. His film debut came in Scarecrow (1973) in which he played a thuggish prisoner. Two years later he was a cop in the Xaviera Hollander biopic The Happy Hooker.

The following year saw him in a more substantial role. In Larry Cohen's fantastically subversive God Told Me To, random murders are carried out by New Yorkers who use the title of the film to explain their crimes. Each of these events is presaged by an appearance from a strange Christ-like figure played by Lynch.

His TV appearances included episodes of Serpico (1976), Police Woman and The Streets of San Francisco (both 1977) and The Bionic Woman (1978). He also played three different roles in Starsky and Hutch (1975, 1978 and 1979). In 1978 he appeared in Battlestar Galactica and two years later returned for the lower budget Galactica 80. Battlestar Galactica: the Second Coming (1999) is a rarely-seen trailer the makers hoped would interest a studio in a reboot of the franchise.

In between, Lynch had secured a couple of starring roles. In the film Delta Fox (1979) he played an ex-con who gets tied up in a labyrinthine kidnapping plot. He turned his scarring to good effect, deflecting questions about it to add to the mystery of his character's back story. The widely praised TV movie Vampire was intended as the pilot for a series.

In 1981 he finally got a series, The Phoenix, the story of an archaeological expedition to Peru that discovers an alien. Unfortunately the first series was also the last, and Lynch returned to B-movies and television, in 1985 playing the first of several Russians, as a Soviet terrorist in Chuck Norris's commie-basher Invasion USA.

Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus had long been producers and directors of everything from trash to arthouse. Lynch's work with them included a Soviet general in Armstrong (1998), while Lima: Breaking the Silence (1999), the true-life story of a Peruvian kidnapping, gave him the chance to play an Irish role, as an ambassador.

After that came the micro-budget basketball crime drama Death Game (2001). If Golan hoped the following year's modern-day adaptation of Crime and Punishment would be a prestige product – its impressive cast included John Hurt and Vanessa Redgrave – it was scuttled by his directorial ineptitude. Final Combat (2003) was a martial arts drama.

Lynch's height and a Rutger Hauerish mane of silver-white hair brought a certain authority, allowing him to play the US President in the Mexican wrestling drama Mil Mascaras and the Aztec Mummy (2007). That year also saw him in a somewhat mainstream hit – to the satisfaction of cult film fans – with Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween in which he played the small role of the headmaster of Michael Myers' school. Zombie recalled, "I'll never forget the way he scared the crap out of the kid actors. As soon as I said 'Action!', he dove right into his role of Principal Chambers at top volume."

After that, Zombie didn't even audition him for the forthcoming The Lords of Salem in which Lynch takes charge of a 17th-century witch trial. His son Christopher by his first wife, the actress Béatrix, appeared with him in the time-travel drama Trancers II (1991) but died of pneumonia in 2005. Lynch was discovered dead in his home.

Richard Hugh Lynch, actor: born Brooklyn 12 February 1936; married firstly Béatrix (one son deceased), secondly Lily; found dead, Yucca Valley, California 19 June 2012.

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