Michael Parks

Active - 1965 - 2016  |   Born - Apr 24, 1940 in Corona, California, United States  |   Died - May 9, 2017   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Action, Thriller, Western

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Brando-esque leading man Michael Parks was one of five children of an itinerant laborer. Like the rest of his family, Parks drifted from job to job in his early teens, briefly marrying at 15. When he wasn't nickel-and-diming it as a migrant worker, Parks acted with amateur theater groups up and down the California coast. Discovered by an agent in 1960, Parks was signed to a Universal contract, spending most of his time on suspension due to his ornery outspokenness. He settled down long enough to play an au naturel Adam in John Huston's The Bible (1966) and to star as a young motorcyclist in search of the Real America on the 1969 TV series Then Came Bronson. Parks astonished his anti-establishment fans in 1968 when he supported George Wallace for the presidency. Parks' film appearances since then have been confined to second-string productions, though he managed to attract attention in 1977 by portraying Bobby Kennedy in The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover. In 1990, Parks co-produced as well as starred in Caged Fury, though it was his turn as Canadian mobster Jean Renault in David Lynch's Twin Peaks that offered him the most exposure that year. Numerous film and television roles followed, and in 1996 director Quentin Tarantino gave Parks a career-boost by casting him in the violent horror/crime hybrid From Dusk Till Dawn (a role that the actor would reprise in Kill Bill, Vol. 1, Death Proof, and Planet Terror). A turn as the volatile leader of a religious cult in Kevin Smith's Red State capitalized on Parks' intense onscreen charisma, and in 2012 he could be spotted in director Ben Affleck's Argo. And though the documentary Kevin Smith: Burn in Hell found the outspoken Clerks director jokingly chiding "View Askewniverse" veteran Affleck for "cherry-picking" Parks on the strength of his Red State performance, few would deny that the talented Parks would have likely won the role on his own merit. Parks died in 2017, at age 77.

Movie Highlights

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  • Sang the theme song for the 1969-1970 TV series Then Came Bronson.
  • The actor is much-remembered by fans of Bronson for his James Dean-like looks and the show's opening scene, in which Parks, riding a motorcycle, comforts a harried commuter with the immortal advice, "Hang in there!"
  • Lived in houseboats off the coasts of California and Oregon.
  • Chopped wood for a living in Mexico during a hiatus from acting.
  • Was given permission by Twin Peaks director David Lynch to portray his character with an accent, even though the role didn't call for one.
  • He returned to his love of music (his Bronson song, "Long Lonesome Highway," was popular in its time and can still be heard on the radio) thanks to his role in Kevin Smith's 2011 horror film, Red State, which inspired Parks to record a gospel album, The Red State Sessions.