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Walker, Texas Ranger Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Walker, Texas Ranger Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

The action-drama series “Walker, Texas Ranger” (1993-2001) was a ratings magnet for CBS , remaining in or just below the Top 40 in the Nielsen ratings for nearly all of its eight season run on the network. The secret to its success was in part due to its formula: straight-forward heroics from star Chuck Norris, who played Texas Ranger Cordell Walker, and his fellow law enforcement officers, who pursued dastardly types with no gray moral areas and resolved them with smarts, bravery, and a well-placed roundhouse kick. “Walker” was cut from the same cloth as vintage shows like “Dragnet,” “The FBI” and “Adam-12,” and for a certain demographic of the TV viewing audience, that felt comforting and appealing.

The other key to the show’s success was its likable cast of familiar faces. Norris was, of course, well-known for his action movie career, while Clarence Gillyard (Walker’s partner, James Trivette), Sheree J. Wilson (ADA and Walker’s love interest) and Noble Willingham (retired Ranger and font of inspiration) had all enjoyed long careers that made them familiar, if not entirely famous faces. The show’s producers — led by Norris and his brother, Aaron Norris — wisely backed their leads with capable guest stars in each episode. Though “Walker” is back on TV as a rebooted series with Jared Padalecki, the original “Walker” remains a popular draw in reruns. Those dipping into “Walker” for some old-school small-screen action may find themselves wondering about the whereabouts of the original cast. Many still work in the industry, while others have retired or passed away.

Here is a list of “Walker” actors who are no longer with us, but whose faces remain on our screens, and in our memories.

Noble Willingham dispensed advice and chili as C.D. Parke

Every action hero needs a crusty, kindhearted old mentor to whom he can turn for homespun advice when the chips are down. C.D. Parker filled that position on “Walker”; a former Texas Ranger himself, C.D. was Walker’s partner in the 1980s before retiring to open a bar and grill frequented by the show’s cast of characters. C.D. also proves willing to lend more than advice to Walker and his team when necessary.

Character actor and Texas native Noble Willingham played C.D. for nearly all of the “Walker” network run. The character was played by another actor (fellow Lone Star State performer Gailard Sartain) in the pilot, but Willingham stepped into C.D.’s boots and remained a member of the main cast until Season 7, when he left the series to make an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. House of Representatives. C.D.’s absence from the series was written off as health issues, later revealed to be the result of a poisoning.

Willingham made his screen debut in Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” and amassed a huge list of film credits during the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s including “Chinatown,” “Norma Rae,” “The Howling,” and “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” He also worked tirelessly on episodic television series like “The Waltons,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Dallas,” and “Tales from the Crypt.” “Walker” marked his final TV acting work, though he appeared in a handful of independent features in the 2000s. Willingham died in his sleep of natural causes at the age of 72 in Palm Springs, California on January 17, 2004.

Floyd Red Crow Westerman raised Walker as a boy

As “Walker” lore noted, Cordell Walker was orphaned at the age of 12 when his parents were murdered by white supremacists. He was sent to live on a Cherokee reservation with his uncle, World War II veteran Raymond Firewalker. Ray taught him the traditions of his tribe, and remained a source of support for Walker during the show’s first season. Ray died at the end of Season 2, though his character returned in a spirit form of his younger self (played by Native American actor Apensanahkwat) for a handful of episodes.

Musician turned actor Floyd Red Crow Westerman played the elder Raymond on “Walker.” A successful country singer and advocate for Native American rights, Westerman moved into acting in the late 1980s. He played Chief Ten Bears in “Dances with Wolves,” and the mysterious shaman who followed singer Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.” After completing his run on “Walker,” Westerman remained active in features and on television, including episodes of “The X-Files” and “Dharma and Greg.”

Westerman’s final film role was in the Kevin Costner comedy “Swing Vote” in 2006; he died from complications of leukemia at the age of 71 on December 13, 2007.

Eloy Casados laid down the law as Sheriff Sam Coyote

Sheriff Sam Coyote represented the law on the Cherokee reservation where Walker grew up. The two men became fast friends, and in four episodes of the series — beginning with Season 2’s “Plague” — Sam lent Walker a hand in solving tough crimes, including the pursuit of a dangerous drug dealer in Season 6’s two-parter, “Lucas.”

California native Eloy Casados played Sam Coyote on “Walker.” His career path initially followed art, which he studied at University of New Mexico while working in the state’s employment office. But the acting bug bit when he was hired as an extra on the 1970 film “The Lawyer.” More roles soon followed in films like “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “White Men Can’t Jump,” as well as numerous guest appearances on series, including recurring roles on “King of the Hill” (as Hank Hill’s down trodden co-worker, Enrique), “Shameless,” and “Longmire.”

Casados’ final screen role came in an 2019 independent film version of William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” which was set in the modern-day Southwest. Casados died of undisclosed causes on April 19, 2016 at the age of 67.

Judge, shaman and elder: Ned Romero played them all

A number of Native American actors appeared in guest roles on “Walker” during its network run. These included the aforementioned Floyd Red Crow Westerman and Eloy Casados, as well as August Schellenberg, Branscombe Richmond, Billy Drago, Michael Greyeyes, Adam Beach, and Norris himself, who shared Walker’s half-Native American heritage in real life.

Another Native American actor, Ned Romero, also appeared in four episodes of “Walker.” Romero, who began his career in the 1960s as an opera singer before moving into acting, played tribal Judge Henry Fivekills in Season 6’s “Tribe” and Season 7’s “War Cry,” before returning to play a shaman who transports Walker back in time in Season 8’s “Way of the Warrior.” His final “Walker” role came as a tribal leader in Season 9’s “White Buffalo.”

Romero’s screen career began in the early 1960s and included countless episodes of television series like “Star Trek,” “Kung Fu,” and “Land of the Lost.” He was also a regular in historical miniseries like the 1975 adaptation of “I Will Fight No More Forever,” in which he played Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph. Romero remained active well into the 1990s and new millennium, appearing in everything from the daytime soap “Santa Barbara” to “Roswell” and two additional “Star Trek” franchise series, “The Next Generation” and “Voyager.” Romero died at the age of 90 in Palm Desert, California, on November 4, 2017.

Russ Marker acted and directed B-movies

“Walker, Texas Ranger” shot the majority of its episodes on location in Texas, specifically the Dallas-Forth Worth era. As a result, it often cast Southwest- and Lone Star State-based performers in supporting and minor roles. These included James Drury, who played Ranger Captain Tom Price; Lou Hancock, who played Mabel Shoop; boxer turned actor Randall “Tex” Cobb, and numerous others, including multi-hyphenate Russ Marker.

Marker, credited with appearances in four episodes including the feature-length “Flashback,” was born in Oklahoma but lived and worked in the Dallas area. In addition to his acting career, which included a minor appearance in “Bonnie and Clyde,” Marker wrote, directed, and produced a handful of low-budget science fiction and horror films, all produced in the Texas area.

These included the offbeat thriller “The Yesterday Machine,” in which Nazis use time travel in an attempt to win World War II, and “Night Fright,” about a monster created by NASA experiments. Marker, who in later years focused on writing, died in Dallas on February 22, 2010.

Movie hero Rod Taylor played Alex's lawyer dad

Australian actor Rod Taylor was a staple of American TV from the 1980s to 2000s with recurring roles on “Falcon Crest” and “Murder, She Wrote” and leads on the short-lived espionage drama “Masquerade” and the Western/sci-fi series “Outlaws.” Taylor also found time to appear in four episodes of “Walker, Texas Ranger” as Alex’s estranged lawyer dad, Gordon Cahill.

Cahill’s alcoholism caused the split between daughter and father, which he worked overtime to repair in the four episodes, beginning with Season 5’s “Redemption.” He later defends Alex against a trumped-up murder charge in Season 5’s’ “Texas vs. Cahill,” which finally returns him to her good graces. Taylor closed out his “Walker” run with the Season 8 two-parter “Wedding Bells,” in which Walker and Alex got married.

Taylor was a versatile presence in features for more than five decades. He could play everyman characters, as evidenced by his role in the 1960 film version of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” but was also a capable action hero in film like the cult favorites “Dark of the Sun” and “Darker Than Amber.” Taylor continued working well into the 2000s, and capped his long career with a cameo as British prime minister Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” He died from a heart attack shortly before his 85th birthday on January 7, 2015.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

TV Cowboy Star James Drury rode tall again on Walker

Actor James Drury had a long history with television Westerns: he was the star of “The Virginian,” one of the small screen’s most popular shoot-em-ups from 1962 to 1971. Drury also logged appearances in nearly all the major TV Western series in the 1950s and 1960s, including multiple episodes of “Bonanza,” ‘”Rawhide,” “Wagon Train,” and “The Rifleman.” So much time in the TV saddle made Drury a natural choice for “Walker” producers when they sought to cast the role of Captain Tom Price, Walker’s superior officer.

Drury’s tenure on “Walker” only lasted for the first three episodes of Season 1 before Price was phased out. He returned to his busy schedule of autograph and TV Western memorabilia convention appearances, narration for television documentaries, and ventures in oil and natural gas in his hometown of Houston, Texas, until 2020. Drury died of natural causes on April 6 of that year at the age of 85.

Paul Winfield played a pastor in peril on Walker

Season 6’s “The Soul of Winter” found Walker protecting Pastor Roscoe Jones, who has been targeted by white supremacist Stan Gorman (played by character actor R.D. Call). The feud began years earlier when Jones was Gorman’s commanding officer in the military; simmering tension led to an attack that led to the death of Jones’s friend. The pastor helped put Gorman behind bars, but the revenge spree continues after his release.

Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Paul Winfield played Pastor Jones in “The Soul of Winter.” A highly respected stage, TV, and screen actor for more than four decades, Winfield became the third Black actor to receive an Oscar nomination for his performance in the 1972 drama “Sounder.” Seven years later, he earned an Emmy nomination for playing Dr. Martin Luther King in the TV biopic “King,” and finally earned the Emmy in 1995 as Judge Harold Nance on “Picket Fences.”

Between these assignments, Winfield kept extraordinarily busy in numerous projects, ranging from “The Terminator” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” to Don King in “Tyson” and the Don King-esque Lucius Sweet on “The Simpsons.” Winfield died of a heart attack at the age of 64 on March 7, 2004.

August Schellenberg played an old ally of Walker

Emmy-nominated and Genie and Gemini Award-winning Canadian actor August Schellenberg played an important figure from Walker’s past in two episodes of the series. In Season 3’s “Rainbow Warrior” and “On Sacred Ground,” Schellenberg played Billy Gray Wolf, who as a boy defended and befriended the young Cordell Walker during his formative years on the reservation. Walker repaid Billy the favor by helping him out of jams in both episodes, including the removal of Native American artifacts by Billy’s son, Tommy Bright Hawk.

Schellenberg is best known to U.S. audiences as Randolph Johnson, who helped break out a captive Orca whale in “Free Willy” and its two sequels. But he won a Genie Award as an Algonquin Indian in “Black Robe,” and earned an Emmy nomination as the legendary Lakota leader Sitting Bull in the 2007 miniseries “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” Schellenberg’s feature credits also included Terrence Malick’s “The New World” and numerous television series including “Saving Grace” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Diagnosed with lung cancer, Schellenberg died of the disease at the age of 77 on August 15, 2013.

Brion James did what he did best — played mean

Character actor Brion James, who specialized in dangerous, often out-of-control bad guys, parlayed that particular talent in Season 6’s two part episode “Lucas.” James played Rafer Cobb, a scurrilous drug dealer with a sick girlfriend (Mackenzie Phillips) and a young son (played by a pre-fame Haley Joel Osment) with AIDS. Walker’s attention is divided in this episode between pursuing Cobb and tending to both son and mother, who is herself dying from AIDS.

James is probably best known as the replicant Leon Kowalski in “Blade Runner” or for numerous appearances in action films, including “48 Hours,” “Red Heat, ” and “Tango & Cash.” For fans of low-budget genre films, James is a ubiquitous and memorably hot-wired presence, essaying all manner of lowlifes in films like Sam Raimi’s “Crime Wave,” Sean Cunningham’s “The Horror Show,” and Albert Pyun’s “Brainsmasher… A Love Story,” which attempted to turn Andrew “Dice” Clay into an action hero.

James, who was also a staple of episodic TV and animated series — he voiced Parasite in “Superman: The Animated Series” — died of a heart attack at the age of 54 on August 7, 1999.

Cult favorite Michael Parks took on Walker twice

Michael Parks was a cult favorite from the 1970s through the 2000s, thanks to series like the ’70s road trip drama “Then Came Bronson,” and projects for Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, and David Lynch. He was also a hard-working guest star on numerous television series, including appearances on “Walker” in 1996 and 1999.

His first “Walker” guest shot was Season 4’s “The Avenger,” which cast him as Caleb Hooks, the brother of an arms dealer killed by Walker who kidnaps the ranger and forces him to fight against his team of mercenaries. Three years later, Parks reprised Hooks in Season 7’s “No Way Out,” and stepped up his Diabolical Villain game by kidnapping Alex and Trivette and placing them in a tank that slowly filled with water. He also pulls the “let’s play a game” bad guy card by offering Walker baffling clues as to their whereabouts.

Parks’ stints on “Walker” came as his career was undergoing a boost thanks to high-profile films and television projects. David Lynch cast him as the malevolent Jean Renault on “Twin Peaks,” while Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez tapped him to play a different sort of Texas Ranger, Earl McGraw, in “From Dusk Till Dawn.” Tarantino had Parks reprise the role in both volumes of “Kill Bill” and in “Grindhouse,” while Kevin Smith parlayed Parks’ cult quotient for major roles in “Red State” and the undeniably weird “Tusk.”

Between these projects were roles in high-profile features like “Argo” (as comic book artist icon Jack Kirby) and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” Parks died at the age of 77 on May 9, 2017.

Alex Rocco was a Godfather alum and veteran scene stealer

Alex Rocco has only a minor role in the Season 7 closer “Wedding Bells,” which sees Walker and Alex targeted by assassins shortly after tying the knot. But Rocco makes the most of it, as he did in roles both big and small over the course of his four-decade career as an actor. Among the high points of Rocco’s time in films and on television were an enduring performance as the ill-fated Moe Greene in “The Godfather,” a 1990 Emmy win as a fast-talking Hollywood agent in the cult series “The Famous Teddy Z,” and roles in “Get Shorty,” “That Thing You Do!” “A Bug’s Life,” and “The Wedding Planner.” Rocco was also a staple of episodic television, including recurring turns on “The Facts of Life” (as Jo’s father), “Magic City” and as the voice of Roger Meyers, Jr., the head of Itchy and Scratchy Studios, on “The Simpsons.”

Rocco’s life before stardom followed a very different path; the Boston native, born Alessandro Federico Petricone, Jr., was linked to the Winter Hill Gang, a criminal organization, and was arrested in 1961 for an alleged connection to a murder of a rival gang member. Released without charge, Rocco headed to Los Angeles, changed his name, and took acting lessons from another Boston native, Leonard Nimoy. Rocco made his movie debut in Russ Meyer’s 1965 exploitation thriller “Motorpsycho!” and logged his final on-screen appearance in the 2017 film “Don’t Sleep.” The latter was a posthumous release, as the 79-year-old Rocco died of pancreatic cancer on July 18, 2015.

Billy Drago brought the fear to a spooky episode of Walker

Though at its heart a straightforward action series, “Walker, Texas Ranger” also took occasional forays into fantasy. Case in point: Season 3’s “Evil in the Night,” which aired shortly after Halloween in 1995. The episode finds Walker investigating reports of evil spirits on Native American burial land. The stories prove to be true as a shaman named Running Wolf (played by Billy Drago) has returned from the dead to seek revenge for the desecration of his burial group.

Running Wolf was an ideal role for Drago, who spent much of his long career playing a wide array of villains. Drago parlayed his Native American heritage into early roles in TV Westerns like 1979’s “The Chisholms” before staking his claim as a movie gangster, psychopath, or thug. He enjoyed widespread exposure as a deputy in Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider,” and as killer Frank Nitti in Brian De Palma’s 1987 blockbuster “The Untouchables,” but spent much of his career in mid-level and low-budget features. He appeared opposite Chuck Norris in his 1986 thriller “Hero and the Terror,” and battled fellow martial artist turned actor Cynthia Rothrock in “Martial Law 2: Undercover,” among other films.

A long-running stint as the demonic Barbas on “Charmed” gave Drago’s career a boost in the ’90s and 2000s, and he appeared in several arthouse and studio features, including Gregg Araki’s “Mysterious Skin” in 2004 and a 2006 remake of “The Hills Have Eyes.” Drago’s final screen role was the 2014 indie “The Dance”; he died of complications from a stroke on June 24, 2019 at the age of 73.

Texas native son Lou Perryman turned up on three Walker episodes

For many readers, character actor Lou Perryman’s name may be the least familiar on this list. But the Texas native enjoyed a long career in independent and Hollywood features, as well as a string of TV appearances that included three guest turns on “Walker.” Perryman’s roles in each episode are minor — he’s a prison guard in Season 6’s “Saving Grace” and a bartender in Season 8’s “Thunderhawk” — but his rough-hewn presence lends gritty realism to the scene, which was Perryman’s specialty.

Perryman got his start in the film business behind the camera, working in various capacities for national productions as well as those in his home state of Texas. One of those projects was Tobe Hooper’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” a notoriously difficult shoot under less-than-desirable conditions. Hooper would reunite Perryman almost two decades later and cast him as radio engineer L.G., who is skinned alive by Leatherface, in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.”

As an actor, Perryman was best known for supporting roles in Lone Star State-lensed indies by director Eagle Pennell, including 1983’s “Last Night at the Alamo.” He also worked in Hollywood features, most notably Hooper’s “Poltergeist,” “The Blues Brothers,” and “Boys Don’t Cry.” Tragically, Perryman was murdered in his home in Austin, Texas on April 1, 2009.

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