Following on the heels of the death of Charles Grodin last month, the acting world has lost another prolific, consummate character actor in Ned Beatty. A man as adept in the world of drama as he was in comedy, Beatty died aged 83 on Sunday.
Ned Thomas Beatty was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1937. He grew up working on farms and fishing, but started his performing career as a singer in gospel quartets and barbershops at the age of 10. Like many of his peers, he got into acting work through theatre, initially at the Barter Theater in Virginia and then moving on to venues in Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, DC. Beatty appeared on Broadway in the original 1968 production of The Great White Hope alongside James Earl Jones.
1971 saw Beatty land his first big cinematic break, the memorable role of Bobby Trippe in John Boorman’s Deliverance. Thus began a career that led to Variety once naming him “the busiest actor in Hollywood”, building up a CV that included several films with Burt Reynolds (whom he befriended working on Deliverance). An Oscar nomination followed for his supporting role in Network, and he became known as a reliable character performer, able to turn in likeable bumblers, officious power trippers and anything else a part demanded.
To cover just a handful of his credits, he’s appeared in films such as The Last American Hero, Nashville, All The President’s Men, Gator, Silver Streak, 1941, The Big Easy, Switching Channels, Hear My Song, Rudy, Just Cause, He Got Game, Shooter and as the voice of Lotso in Toy Story 3. Many will also recall him as the endlessly put-upon Otis, sidekick to Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor in the first two Superman films.
Television was also a regular stomping ground, Beatty guesting on a variety of shows including Gunsmoke, M.A.S.H., Hawaii Five-O, The Rockford Files, The Streets Of San Francisco, Highway To Heaven, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Roseanne, Homicide: Life On The Street and a host of TV movies.
Beatty is survived by his fourth wife, Sandra Johnson, four children from his first wife Walta Abbott, two from his marriage to Belinda Beatty and two from his third wife Dorothy Lindsey.