Considered the very embodiment of a character actor, and one of the best of his kind, J.T. Walsh filled a need for hospital corner-executive types and glowering villains throughout a busy 15-year career. His penetrating, unblinking eyes brought a deadly seriousness to a spectrum of supporting characters, both white and blue collar. James Patrick Walsh -- who decided to adopt the initials J.T. after his name was misprinted -- was born on September 28, 1943 in San Francisco, then raised in Rhode Island and Europe. He worked in a variety of career fields, from social worker to salesman, during his young adulthood. It wasn't until age 30 that he focused on stage acting, and ten more years that he began popping up regularly on the big screen. His rave reviews for a 1984 stage production of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross finally translated into the beginning of a film career. It took Walsh little time to become a character-actor mainstay. Woody Allen cast him in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and a year later he gained notice as the sergeant who puts the clamps on Robin Williams' fast-talking DJ in Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). He hooked up with Mamet again on House of Games that same year. The first of several collaborations with friend Kurt Russell came with Tequila Sunrise in 1988. Walsh earned kudos as the prototypical shady studio exec in Christopher Guest's The Big Picture (1989). By this point he had begun appearing in an average of four or five films per year. His portrayals in the early '90s included Annette Bening's sleazy mentor in The Grifters (1990) and another villainous military officer in A Few Good Men (1992). The mid-'90s brought such films as Red Rock West (1993), The Client (1994), The Last Seduction (1994), and Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995), the last of which cast him as Watergate figure John Ehrlichman. In the final few years of his life, Walsh etched some of his most haunting portrayals, including the predatory sex offender who bends the ear of Karl Childers in Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade (1996), reprising his role from the little-seen short Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade (1993), also written by Thornton. Walsh burned with a menacing intensity as a malicious trucker in the Duel-inspired thriller Breakdown (1997), also starring Russell. Walsh already had Pleasantville and The Negotiator (both 1998) in the can when he suffered a fatal heart attack on February 27, 1998, in San Diego. Both films were dedicated to him, as was Jack Nicholson's Oscar for As Good As It Gets (1997).
Biography by Derek Armstrong
- Decided to go by the initials J.T. after his name was misprinted.
- Grew up on military bases in Europe.
- During his time at the University of Rhode Island, he helped stage a sit-in at President Horn's residence.
- As a young adult, he worked as a social worker, a teacher and an encyclopedia salesman.
- Won a Drama Desk Award for his work on Broadway in Glengarry Glen Ross.
- Was 40 when he appeared in his first film.