R.I.P. Scott Wilson

Just a few words of tribute to honor the late Scott Wilson, who passed away from leukemia this past weekend at age 76. I was a big fan of his quiet understated acting. He was one of those character actors whose work gradually steals up on you until you reach a tipping point and finally make an effort to learn his name (at least that’s the way it works with me). That moment occurred for me when I was checking out all of William Peter Blatty’s work for a playreading I was in. Blatty clearly loved Wilson; he gave him roles in both The Ninth Configuration (1980) and The Exorcist III (1990). By that time I had seen him in a zillion things without really noting his name, probably in this order: as the cuckolded gas station mechanic in The Great Gatsby (1974), as astronaut Scott Crossfield in The Right Stuff (1983), as a murder suspect in In the Heat of the Night (1967) and as real-life killer Dick Hickock in In Cold Blood (1967)–his breakthrough role. Later, I caught him in Young Guns II (1990), Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), Dead Man Walking (1995), Pearl Harbor (2001), Junebug (2005), and other things.

I was thrilled when Wilson showed up on The Walking Dead (2011-14); he was practically the only watchable thing on the irredeemable, soporific second season, all tricked out in a Santa Claus beard like the Georgia cracker he was, playing Herschel, a veterinarian/gentleman farmer with a conscience and a heart. Wilson was almost always cast according to type: often playing western characters, military officers and the like. He gave truer, smarter performances than most, and probably had many more in store for us if not stolen away by cancer. Ironically, he was probably enjoying a higher profile than ever thanks to that hit TV show. It was far from his best material, but it seemed to me I saw him do several scenes on that show that must have been physically challenging, and I was very impressed. We take our hats off to a departed trouper.