Ted Cassidy: Lurching Toward Legend

All Hail, Ted Cassidy (1932-1979)! At 6’9″ tall you bet we bow down to him, although one would hardly need to — he was 3/4 of a foot taller than me!

As his fans know from his most famous role, Cassidy was unique not just for his height, but for his comic skill, acting ability and intelligence, making him a valuable character actor indeed. Often, when casting rare physical types, you have to settle for somebody who fits the suit but doesn’t necessarily have the chops to really put the part over. By contrast, Cassidy was an actual actor, and a good one. I hope he was well paid.

Cassidy was originally from West Virginia, where he skipped several grades in grammar school and played on the varsity squads of school teams in his freshman year of high school. He graduated from Stetson University in Florida with a degree in speech and drama, then moved to Dallas, where he got a job as a disk jockey on WFAA radio. This led to work on WFAA television, where, as a local reporter he covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. 

In 1964, he got the role that put him on the map, that of the apparently undead butler Lurch on The Addams Family. Watching him in the part is a joy. Only a dilettante would ever claim that the job didn’t require much since all that is required mostly stillness and the occasional groan or one word answer. In fact, the script was often crafted to showcase the tension between this character’s nature and his interactions with the world around him. The work is subtle and hilarious and sometimes even notes of pathos are required. I’ve often wished there were comedy acting awards, since comedy often gets short shrift at the Oscars and Emmys:  Cassidy’s work on The Addams Family would deserve such an award. (So would his hand, which very cleverly played Thing.)

The Addams Family lasted until 1966, but Lurch was far from the last of Cassidy’s memorable roles. Here are just a few others:

In 1966 he played the alien robot Ruk in the Star Trek episode “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” wherein he utters the immortal lines “The old ones…THAT was the equation!”

In 1969, he played Harvey in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the member of the Hole in the Wall Gang who demands, “Guns or knives?” in his challenge to Butch Cassidy and gets kicked in the balls instead.

In 1973 he cowrote the screenplay to the sexy movie The Harrad Experiment starring James Whitmore and Tippi Hedren, and (played a cameo role)

In 1976 and 1977 he played Bigfoot in several episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, an event so epic we blogged about it here!

Starting in 1977 he was the narrator on the credit sequence to the TV show The Incredible Hulk, which continued to use his voice posthumously through its run which lasted until 1982.

These are just a handful of credits in a resume that includes hundreds, Including lots of voice over work. Sadly Cassidy died at age 46 — no doubt he had many entertaining performances still in him when he left us.