On January 30th, legendary character Dick Miller passed away. It’s sobering news for movie buffs around the world. One MovieBabble contributor wants to say something on his behalf.
For many people, the news of Dick Miller’s passing will mean little.
But for many cinephiles out there, it means the loss of one of the most famous character actors. As a kid I never knew his name, but I knew his face. He popped up in many of my childhood favorite films, from Terminator, Gremlins, The ‘Burbs, Innerspace to Small Soldiers. He was one of those guys that my dad and I would point to the camera to and say, “I know that guy, he was in (insert movie here)!”
Yup, he was one of those guys. He always blended in perfectly. No matter how small his part, he’d always make it something special, such as adding comedic timing to the most mundane of dialogue. No matter who he acted in front of, whether it be Patrick Stewart or Robert De Niro, Miller rarely gets upstaged.
Which makes it a shame is that he hadn’t had many bigger roles in the past few decades. I remembered how much I loved him in Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, in which he has a sizable supporting part as local drunk Uncle Willy. I wish he would have had more meaty roles in his career.
But no matter how small his part, he shined on screen. Not only in film but in TV too, bringing his talents on screen in such acclaimed shows like NYPD Blue, ER, Eerie Indiana and more. He even lend his voice in cartoons, such as Batman: The Animated Series, which I watched obsessively as a child.
His best role? Perhaps one could find that in his younger years, when the lord of B-movies Roger Corman cast him in countless of his productions, such as A Bucket of Blood and Little Shop of Horrors. Especially in A Bucket of Blood, one of his rare leading roles, you can see how captivating he could be. If only more filmmakers would have given him the chance.
He was never meant for stardom, not all great actors are. Irregardless, throughout the years, he managed to work with countless cinema legends, both onscreen and behind the scenes. He met a young Jack Nicholson before his rise to fame; acted across from Tom Cruise in his pre-Top Gun days; had a small part in Robert Zemeckis’ Used Cars, a small part in Martin Scorsese’ After Hours; and so on.
We’ve watch him die numerous times on screen. He was shot by the Terminator, electrocuted by killer robots (Chopping Mall), sold his soul to a demon Billy Zane (Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight) but somehow managed to miraculously survive a Gremlin attack in Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Besides Roger Corman, if there was one director closely linked to him, it’s Joe Dante. Dante cast him in nearly every one of his movies. Though his screen time was often less than ten minutes, Dante made sure that those precious minutes were memorable. From being a skeptical book clerk in The Howling, a nosy cab driver in Innerspace or a gossipy garbage man in The ‘Burbs, he was always there. You couldn’t have a Joe Dante film without him.
He played a character named Walter Paisley six times in his career. Though I can’t be sure of this, I’m sure many filmmakers cast him in a role with this name just because they were such a fan of him in A Bucket of Blood. Or perhaps it was just meant to be.
He was 90 years old when he passed, so he wasn’t a spring chicken, but it was always comfortable knowing he was still around. His name might not have been mused among pretentious film-school buffs, but among genre fans, his name shall always be hailed in adulation.
He wasn’t blockbuster material, he was one of the guys. He was one of us. Originally, he was an aspiring writer, who only acted in films- which started as an accident through meeting Roger Corman in order to pay the rent. Soon enough, as his filmography began to grow, there was no denying it. He was meant to be an actor.
No Joe Dante film will ever be the same. God, how can you have a Joe Dante movie without an appearance by Dick Miller?
But it’s the way it is. They all must go. Nobody is allowed to stay. No matter how many people you’ve entertained or inspired, eventually you’ll join the rest of them.
Though time moves on and so do people, the world will never be the same. But whenever I’m watching some old film and his face suddenly appears on screen, I know I’ll be smiling.
Goodbye, Walter Paisley.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on Dick Miller? Comment down below!
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