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Brion Howard James (February 20, 1945 – August 7, 1999) was an American character actor. Perhaps best known for his portrayal of Leon Kowalski in Blade Runner, James portrayed a variety of colorful roles in popular films such as Southern Comfort, 48 Hrs., Another 48 Hrs., Silverado, Tango & Cash, Red Heat, The Player and The Fifth Element.
Brion Howard James
February 20, 1945
Redlands, California, United States
|Died||August 7, 1999 (aged 54)|
Malibu, California, United States
(m. 1965; div. 1996)
James' commanding screen presence and formidable physique at 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) tall usually resulted in his casting as a heavy, appearing more frequently in lower-budget horror and action films and TV shows throughout the 1980s and 1990s. James appeared in more than 100 films before he died of a heart attack at the age of 54.
James was born in Redlands, California, the son of Ida Mae (née Buckelew) and Jimmy James. He spent his early years in Beaumont, California, where his parents owned and operated a movie theater; James had said, "My story is like Cinema Paradiso. Every night in my life since I was 2 years old... I ran movies". After graduating from high school in 1962, James attended San Diego State University as a Theater Arts major. Migrating to New York, James immersed himself in the theatre scene, taking on bit roles here and there. He also served in the United States Army National Guard.
In 1975, James landed a small role in the made-for-television film, The Kansas City Massacre, playing John Dillinger gang member Homer Van Meter. Higher profile roles followed in 1976, with his casting in Nickelodeon and Harry and Walter Go to New York. James also appeared in the acclaimed television miniseries Roots and popular 1970s shows such as Gunsmoke, The Incredible Hulk, Mork and Mindy, Chico and the Man, and CHiPs.
James' career took a sudden upturn in the early 1980s with several sharply defined character roles in films such as Southern Comfort and 48 Hrs. (which were both directed by Walter Hill), but it was his performance as Leon Kowalski in the 1982 film Blade Runner that gave him his greatest, most lasting fame. Even though his memorable performance threatened to typecast the intense yet versatile actor as a movie villain for the remainder of the decade, James continued to pile up a prolific acting resume, playing significant roles in Enemy Mine, Flesh + Blood, A Breed Apart, Silverado, Armed and Dangerous, Red Heat, Steel Dawn, Red Scorpion, Tango & Cash and Showdown (portraying an obnoxious high-school vice-principal, Kowalski, whose name was probably an inside joke inspired by Blade Runner). James continued his strong work on the small screen as well, with guest spots in Benson, Quincy, M.E., The A-Team, Little House on the Prairie, The Dukes of Hazzard, Matlock, Miami Vice, Sledge Hammer!, and Dynasty. In the 1990s, he appeared in Highlander: The Series, and as Sheriff Bowman in the Millennium season 2 episode "Luminary". He lent his voice to the character of Parasite in Superman: The Animated Series. In 1982, he was in the made-for-TV-movie Hear No Evil as Billy Boy Burns.
James starred in the low-budget 1989 supernatural horror film The Horror Show (aka House III), where he played serial killer "Meat Cleaver Max" Jenke. This was his all-time favorite role. The character was initially expected to spin off into other films. James was relieved that he was not asked to reprise the role, as he said he did not want to make a career out of something so schlocky.
In 1994, he played a grouchy sponsor who became a victim of the gruesome goings-on during a 1939 radio show in the film Radioland Murders. Another of his memorable roles came near the end of his career, as the amiable General Munro in The Fifth Element (1997). Two months before his death, James reprised his role as Parasite in Superman 64, a video game based on the critically acclaimed Superman: The Animated Series.
Concerning his talent for playing villains in films, he stated in an interview in Fangoria magazine, "I consider myself a classical character actor like Lon Chaney, Wallace Beery, Charles Laughton. I always like to play bad guys. I'm real good at psychotic behavior."
|1976||Harry and Walter Go to New York||Hayseed|
|1976||Treasure of Matecumbe||Roustabout|
|1976||Bound for Glory||Pick-Up Truck Driver at Border|
|1978||Corvette Summer||Jeff (Wayne's Carwash Henchman)|
|1980||Wholly Moses!||Guard at Banquet|
|1980||The Jazz Singer||Man in Bar|
|1981||The Postman Always Rings Twice||Crapshooter|
|1981||Soggy Bottom, U.S.A.||Defalice|
|1982||Blade Runner||Leon Kowalski|
|1982||48 Hrs.||Ben Kehoe|
|1982||The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez||Captain Rogers|
|1984||A Breed Apart||Peyton|
|1985||Flesh & Blood||Karsthans|
|1986||Armed and Dangerous||Anthony Lazarus|
|1988||Dead Man Walking||Decker|
|1988||The Wrong Guys||Glen Grunski|
|1988||Death Street U.S.A. (aka: Nightmare at Noon)||The Albino|
|1988||Red Scorpion||Sgt. Krasnov|
|1989||The Horror Show||Max Jenke|
|1989||Circles in a Forest||Mr. Patterson|
|1989||Tango & Cash||Requin|
|1990||Enid Is Sleeping||Trucker|
|1990||Street Asylum||Reverend Mony|
|1990||Another 48 Hrs.||Ben Kehoe|
|1991||Ultimate Desires||Wolfgang Friedman|
|1992||The Player||Joel Levison|
|1992||Wishman||Staten Jack Rose|
|1992||Frogtown II||Prof. Tanzer|
|1993||Brainsmasher...A Love Story||Brown||Video|
|1993||Striking Distance||Det. Eddie Eiler|
|1993||Showdown||Vice Principal Kowalski|
|1993||The Dark||Paul Buckner|
|1994||Cabin Boy||Big Teddy|
|1994||Future Shock||Jack Porter|
|1994||F.T.W.||Sheriff Rudy Morgan|
|1994||Art Deco Detective||Jim Wexler|
|1994||Radioland Murders||Bernie King|
|1994||The Soft Kill||Ben McCarthy|
|1994||Hong Kong 97||Simon Alexander|
|1995||The Nature of the Beast||Sheriff Gordon|
|1995||Steel Frontier||General J.W. Quantrell|
|1995||Cyberjack (aka: Virtual Assasin)||Nassim|
|1995||Indecent Behavior III||Mr. Cowed||Uncredited|
|1996||Precious Find||Sam Horton|
|1996||Marco Polo: Haperek Ha'aharon|
|1996||Billy Lone Bear||Walsh|
|1997||The Killing Jar||Dr. Vincent Garret|
|1997||Back in Business||Emery Ryker|
|1997||The Fifth Element||General Munro|
|1997||Snide and Prejudice||Hermann Goering|
|1997||The Setting Son||Junior|
|1997||Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills||Salvador Dalí / Sam|
|1997||The Underground||Captain Hilton|
|1998||Jekyll Island||Lawton Goodyear|
|1998||Deadly Ransom||Bobby Rico|
|1998||In God's Hands||Captain|
|1998||Border to Border||Card Shark|
|1998||Kai Rabe gegen die Vatikankiller||Mönch|
|1998||Joseph's Gift||Frank Childress|
|1998||Black Sea 213||Captain Killick|
|1998||A Place Called Truth||Hank|
|1999||Foolish||Ruben Reyes, Talent Scout||Uncredited|
|1999||Diplomatic Siege||Gen. Stubbs||Posthumous release|
|1999||Dirt Merchant||Detective Harry Ball|
|2000||Farewell, My Love||Renault|
|2000||The Operator||Vernon Woods|
|2000||The King Is Alive||Ashley|
|2000||The Thief & the Stripper||Shoe|
|2005||Phoenix Point||Spider Rico||Posthumous release|
Final film role
|1974||The Waltons||Henry Ferris Jr.||Episode: "The Birthday"|
|1975||Gunsmoke||Joe Barnes||Episode: "Manolo"|
|1977||The Rockford Files||Clamshell||Episode: "The Battle of Canoga Park"|
|1978||Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park||Second-in-command park security||TV movie|
|1978||The Incredible Hulk||Al||Episode: "Alice in Disco Land"|
|1978||Mork & Mindy||George||Episode: "Mork's Greatest Hit"|
|1978||Chico and the Man||Hog||Episode: "Waiting for Chongo"|
|1979||B. J. and the Bear||Bomber / Patrol Officer||2 episodes|
|1979–1981||CHiPs||Ackerman / Monk||3 episodes|
|1980||Galactica 1980||Willy||Episode: "Galactica Discovers Earth: Part 1"|
|1980||The Jeffersons||Dirty Dog||Episode: "The Arrival: Part 2"|
|1981||Benson||Axe-Man||Episode: "The Grass Ain't Greener"|
|1982||Little House on the Prairie||Amos||Episode: "A Faraway Cry"|
|1982||Quincy, M.E.||Henry Muller||Episode: "Sleeping Dogs"|
|1982||Hear No Evil||Billy Boy Burns||TV movie|
|1982–1984||The Dukes of Hazzard||Captain Slater / Jenkins||2 episdoes|
|1983||The Gambler: The Adventure Continues||Reece||TV movie|
|1983–1985||The A-Team||David Plout / Ryder||2 episodes|
|1985||The Fall Guy||Episode: "The King of the Stuntmen"|
|1985||Amazing Stories||Willie Joe||Episode: "Mummy Daddy"|
|1986||Annihilator||Alien Leader||TV movie|
|1986–1988||Sledge Hammer!||Don Merrill / Felix Ridel||2 episodes|
|1987||Matlock||Mr. Grock||Episode: "The Author"|
|1987||The Hitchhiker||Lionel||Episode: "Best Shot"|
|1988||Miami Vice||Edward Reese||Episode: " Borrasca"|
|1988–1991||Hunter||Thomas Duffy / Lt. Jeff Wadsworth||2 episodes|
|1991||Tales from the Crypt||Steve Dixon||Episode: "Split Second"|
|1992–1993||Batman: The Animated Series||Irving||Voice|
|1993||Renegade||Eli Starke||Episode: "Moody River"|
|1993||Rio Diablo||Jake Walker||TV movie|
|1994||Silk Stalkings||Rupert Tarlow||Episode: "T.K.O."|
|1994||Knight Rider 2010||Jared||TV movie|
|1994||Highlander: The Series||Armand Thorne||Episode: "The Cross of St. Antoine"|
|1996||Aaahh!!! Real Monsters||Big Orderly / Chimera||Voice|
|1996||Assault on Dome 4||Chairman||TV movie|
|1996–1997||Superman: The Animated Series||Rudy Jones / Parasite||Voice|
|1997||Walker, Texas Ranger||Rafer Cobb||2 episodes|
|1997–1999||Todd McFarlane's Spawn||Voice|
|1998||Millennium||Sheriff Bowman||Episode: "Luminary"|
|1998||Men in White||General||TV movie|
|1998||Men in Black: The Series||Drekk||Voice|
|1998–1999||The Magnificent Seven||Stuart James||2 episodes|
|1997||Blade Runner||Leon Kowalski||Voice|
- Craig Edwards (Spring 1995). "Brion James; Interview by Craig Edwards". Psychotronic Video. 20: 60–64.
- "Brion James Height - How tall". celebheights.com. 2015. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved February 13, 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Buckalew Family Association". oocities.org. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
- Zekas, Rita (May 27, 1993). "His familiar face changes with every new film script". Toronto Star. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
- Terrace 1985, p. 188.
- "Hear No Evil". Turner Classic Movies. United States: Turner Broadcasting System. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- Terrace 2011, p. 445.
- "Brion James". Psychotronic.com.[permanent dead link]
- Terrace, Vincent (1985). Encyclopedia of Television Series, Pilots and Specials. 2 (1st ed.). New York City: Zoetrope Publishing. p. 188. ISBN 978-0918432612.
- Terrace, Vincent (2011). Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 (2nd ed.). New York City: McFarland and Company. p. 445. ISBN 978-0786464777.