Joe Don Baker

Active - 1960 - 2016  |   Born - Feb 12, 1936 in Groesbeck, Texas, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

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Biography by Andrea LeVasseur

Veteran character actor Joe Don Baker has been playing rugged good ol' boys since his uncredited role in Cool Hand Luke in 1967. Born in Texas, his Southern drawl and ample proportions made him suitable to play countless numbers of simple-minded sheriffs, cops, and detectives in everything from big-budget blockbusters to low-grade action movies, although he more often appeared in the latter. On TV in the '60s, he guest starred on Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Mission: Impossible before starring in his own show, the short-lived detective series Eischied. On the big screen, he played the drifter in Sam Peckinpah's Junior Bonner in 1972. He same year he made the "hicksploitation" classic Walking Tall, followed by Charley Varrick, Golden Needles, Framed, and plenty of other poorly made action thrillers that have since gained a small but appreciative audience on home video. The best example is 1975 crime flick Mitchell, which was featured on an important transitional episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Baker plays the titular slob detective who goes after drug dealers while drinking a lot of Schlitz malt liquor and eating pork rinds. After this movie, he became something of a legendary figure to a small but loyal fan base, and his persona as a lovable rascal was fixed for the next few decades. In the '80s he appeared in bad comedies (Fletch, Leonard, Part 6) as well as bad action thrillers (Final Justice, Getting Even). In 1989, he returned to television to play acting chief Tom Dugan on In the Heat of the Night and made small appearances in films, like the police chief who drinks Pepto-Bismol in Cape Fear (1991). He did branch out a little in the '90s to play Senator Joseph McCarthy in the made-for-TV movie Citizen Cohn as well as Winona Ryder's yuppie dad in Reality Bites. His later accomplishments include three James Bond appearances, first in Living Daylights as a bad guy, then in Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies as good guy Jack Wade. He returned to his stereotypical roots playing white-trash slobs as Richie's trailer park dad in Mars Attacks! and in an uncredited role in Joe Dirt. In 2003, he appeared with veterans Martin Landau, Martin Sheen, and Edward Asner in The Commisson.

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