R.I.P. Bo Hopkins

Just heard from Candy Clark that her American Graffiti (1973) co-star Bo Hopkins (1938-2022) has passed away. Why I feel compelled to memorialize him while everyone else is mourning the loss of Ray Liotta (as I am too) is articulatable if perhaps a little alienating. While everyone is talking about Liotta, I simply have more to say about Hopkins. For example, while the South Carolina native was usually typecast as crackers and Good Ole Boys, one of his more interesting performances is as a scientist in the horror movie Tentacles (1977) alongside such heavy hitters as Shelley Winters, John Huston, and Henry Fonda (the talent far outclasses the vehicle). He did a great job in the role. And I was delighted to see him onscreen in a contemporary performance as recently as 2020 in Hillbilly Elegy, although he scarcely he has any lines as showboating Glenn Close’s husband “Pawpaw”. This turn was obviously a favor to an old friend on the part of director Ron Howard, who had also appeared with Hopkins in American Graffiti, and cast him in his first film as director White Lightning (1973).

Hopkins’ heyday was the ’70s, when he was in a long list of modern classics, mostly westerns, action films and comedies. His other credits included roles in the Sam Peckinpah films The Wild Bunch (1969), The Getaway (1972) and The Killer Elite (1975), as well as The Moonshine War (1970), Monte Walsh (1970), The Culpepper Cattle Co (1972), The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973), The Day of the Locust (1975), Posse (1975), Midnight Express (1978), More American Graffiti (1979), Sweet Sixteen (1984), Mutant (1984), Big Bad John (1990) and The Ballad of Little Jo (1993). He often played jerks and henchmen; he always reminded me a bit of the Beach Boys’ Mike Love, as his characters usually had a major chip on their shoulder. He also did lots of TV guest shots over the years, as well as such things as the landmark made-for-TV movie Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976) with Eve Plumb, and Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone (1994) with Hugh O’Brian.

William Hopkins was born in 1938. His nickname “Bo” arose after he played that part in a production of William Inge’s Bus Stop. After serving in the army, he studied at the Actor’s Studio, and that’s what set him on his way. And now, sadly, this likeable western star is on his way to Boot Hill.