Robert Englund began his acting training at age 12, taking drama courses at the University of Oakland, U.C.L.A., California State-Northridge, the Michigan Academy of Dramatic Arts, and the Rochester, NY, branch of R.A.D.A. Englund made his first professional appearance in a Cleveland production of Godspell. His first film role was the bumptious backwoodsman Whitey in Buster and Billie (1974), after which he paid his dues in a series of villainous bit parts: shooting down Burt Reynolds at the end of Hustle (1975); beating up Kris Kristofferson in A Star is Born (1976); and so on. In 1984, he was cast as Willie, one of the few sympathetic Earth-invading extraterrestrials in the sci-fi TV miniseries V.
Impressed by this performance, director Wes Craven buried Englund under several layers of latex and collodion and cast him as malevolent, mass-murdering wraith Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). The actor became an instant star, appearing in five Nightmare sequels, hosting a 1988 television spin-off, and basking in the glow of a plenitude of fan clubs. Although Freddy's only redeeming quality was his morbid sense of humor, Englund became an idol to the young, who emulated the actor each Halloween donning Freddy masks and plastic claws. Far from concerned that this idolatry might lead to delinquency, Englund allowed that he enjoyed playing Freddy, and felt pride at having created so memorable a screen persona. (In all fairness, he also emphasized to his most impressionable fans that it was all play-acting, and that his homicidal tendencies were strictly confined to the screen.) Unlike such horror icons of the past as Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, however, Englund was not able to shed his famous character's image when he wanted to move on to other roles. Outside of his Nightmare appearances, Englund's most significant credits were his one-shot directorial stint on the theatrical feature 976-EVIL (1988); his characterization of the title role in a medium-budget film adaptation of Phantom of the Opera (1989); and his hosting chores on the Craven-produced TV anthology Nightmare Café (1992).