RIP Michael Parks

Earlier today, filmmaker Kevin Smith took to social media to announce the passing of actor Michael Parks at the age of 77. Whether you knew Parks from his work with Smith, with Robert Rodriguez, with Quentin Tarantino, or elsewhere, he was never less than a captivating performer. Getting baity parts in Red State and Tusk over the last handful of years had introduced him to a whole new audience. Smith can be thanked for that, much like Rodriguez and Tarantino did in years prior. This is a loss that stings more the more you recognize his work. A veritable character actor of the finest degree, it’s a shame that the Academy never recognized him. Oscar or no Oscar, he’s still a master of the craft and will be greatly missed.

This is what Smith wrote on Instagram a few hours ago:

I hate to report that my cinematic muse #michaelparks has passed away. Michael was, and will likely forever remain, the best actor I've ever known. I wrote both #RedState and @tuskthemovie FOR Parks, I loved his acting so much. He was, hands-down, the most incredible thespian I ever had the pleasure to watch perform. And Parks brought out the absolute best in me every time he got near my set. From the moment I saw him steal the opening scene of #fromdusktildawn at an advance screening at the Sunset 5 back in the mid-90's, I said to @samosier "Could you imagine what it must be like to work with a Yoda of acting like that guy? I gotta write for him one day." It took me 15 years but my dream came true on Red State (for which Parks won Best Actor at the @sitgesfestival) and then again years later with #tusk. Only Michael Parks could have delivered the line "Is man indeed a walrus at heart?" and make it scary as fuck. My favorite memory of Michael is watching him and #johnnydepp act with and at each other, like a couple of dueling wizards, in their shared scene in Tusk. Parks was in Heaven that day, sharing the screen with another brilliant actor and creating an unforgettable performance. He elevated any flick or TV show he was in and elevated every director he ever acted for. I was so fucking blessed to have worked with this bonafide genius. But really, I was just lucky to have known him at all. My heart goes out to James (Michael's son), Oriana (Michael's wife), Quentin Tarantino (Michael's biggest fan) and any movie or music lover who was ever dazzled by the talents of Michael Parks. Farewell, old friend. I'll see you farther along… #KevinSmith #actor #genius #rip #walrusyes

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Here’s a bit from a tribute I wrote to Parks a couple years back:

“Whenever articles are written about the best veteran actors in Hollywood, one particular name is always unjustly excluded. That name? Well, Michael Parks of course. The man has always been a respected character actor in the industry (especially earlier on in his career), but up until the last few years it’s really only been Quentin Tarantino putting him on the proper pedestal. Recently though, filmmaker Kevin Smith has picked up that mantle, highlighting him in both Red State and this week’s new outing Tusk. Smith has done more than his part to get Parks into the spotlight, and man does he deserve it.

Parks is likely best known for his role in the show Then Came Bronson, which really put him on the map. Prior to that, he’d been known for a variety of TV movies and his parts in both The Bible: In the Beginning… as well as in Bus Riley’s Back in Town. It was Then Came Bronson though, where he played a reporter turned crusading biker that showed off just how unusual a talent he was. Not everyone would know what to do with him though, which led to him working consistently, but in lower profile fare. Sure, he popped up in Twin Peaks, but it was when Robert Rodgriguez and the aforementioned Tarantino decided to work with him that his career took a new turn.

He’s been a featured cast member in the work of both Rodriguez and Tarantino multiple times, playing memorable if small parts in movies like Django Unchained, From Dusk till Dawn (where he owns the screen and actually inspired Smith to write him his part in Red State), Kill Bill Volume 1/Kill Bill Volume 2, and the double feature Grindhouse, where he played the same part in both Death Proof as well as Planet Terror. He was becoming a fun toy for both of those filmmakers, but he still wasn’t getting the big roles that a man of his caliber deserves so greatly.

Over the past few years though, Smith’s admiration has really given Parks a new act to his career. He’s essentially the lead in the satire Red State, playing the murderous pastor Abin Cooper. For my money, Parks was nomination worthy in that role, essaying a loathsome character that also becomes strangely compelling (he even sings). You want to look away as he spews hate, but you simply can’t. Parks rightly received raves from the few who saw the flick, and that’s transitioned into him getting a co-lead role in Tusk (more on that shortly) as well as a part in Smith’s currently shooting Yoga Hosers. Besides working with Smith, Parks also was cast in the Oscar winner Argo based on the strength of Red State, and that’s led to juicier roles in movies like We Are What We Are.

On Friday, Tusk hits theaters and features the best performance I’ve ever seen from the man. He is hypnotically good as a madman weaving stories and then sewing Justin Long into a human walrus (yes, the movie is pretty weird, but it’s very good as well). Parks makes brilliant choices, using his voice in the exact opposite way that you’d expect for this part. He blew me away here.

Basically, if you somehow don’t know who Michael Parks is, you need to pop in Red State on DVD this week and check out Tusk this weekend. It’ll give you a primer on how talented the man is. I’m thrilled that Smith has chosen to shine a spotlight on Parks at this later stage in his career, so I’m happy to shine my own spotlight on him today. He fully deserves it!”

Rest in peace sir…

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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