Powers Boothe, a character actor who appeared in films like Sin City and TV shows including Deadwood and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., died Sunday morning in his sleep of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles. He was 68.
His rep told The Hollywood Reporter that a private service will be held in Boothe’s home state of Texas, with a memorial celebration under consideration as well. Donations can be made to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which honors the nation’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need.
Boothe, who grew up on a farm in Texas, began his acting career in the theatre, playing in a number of Shakespearean productions including Henry IV. He made his Broadway debut in the late 1970s in Lone Star & Pvt. Wars.
In 1980, Boothe won an Emmy for lead actor in a limited series or special for playing cult leader Jim Jones in CBS’ Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. He won that award during an actors strike and chose to cross the picket line to accept his trophy, saying, “This may be either the bravest moment of my career or the dumbest.”
On the strength of Guyana Tragedy, he was cast in Southern Comfort, one of my favourite movies of the 80’s. His character, Corporal Hardin was described by Director Walter Hill as “the rational, hardworking, self made individual” a description you believe could be applied to the subsequent casting image of Boothe.
He starred in A Breed Apart (1984), the John Boorman Amazonian adventure, The Emerald Forest (1985), again for Walter Hill in Extreme Prejudice (1987). He was unforgettable as the wicked gunman Curly Bill Brocius in Tombstone (1993). Excellent as Alexander Haig in Nixon (1995) and a sheriff in another Oliver Stone film, U Turn (1997).
Boothe gained a reputation for playing villains with memorable roles in the action film Sudden Death (1995), Bill Paxton’s Frailty (2001) and the nefarious Senator Roark in Sin City (2005). Perhaps his most famous villain role was Cy Tolliver, the ruthless saloon owner on HBO’s Deadwood.
Boothe also was nominated two ensemble SAG Awards, first in 1996 alongside the cast of Nixon and then again in 2007 with the cast of Deadwood.
More recently, Boothe took on the role of Gideon Malick as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, debuting the role in 2012’s The Avengers and reprising it on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Lucas was born in a one-room log cabin in Blacksburg, Virginia, the youngest of nine children. His mother, Viola Dixon Waugh, was an alcoholic prostitute. His father, Anderson Lucas, was an alcoholic and former railroad employee who had lost his legs after being hit by a freight train. He would usually come home inebriated, and would suffer from Viola’s wrath as often as his sons.
When Lucas was 10, his brother accidentally stabbed him in the left eye while they were fighting. His mother ignored the injury for four days, and subsequently the eye grew infected and had to be replaced by a glass eye.
Henry dropped out of school in the sixth grade and ran away from home, drifting around Virginia. Lucas claimed that he first practiced bestiality and zoosadism while he was a runaway, and also began committing petty thefts and burglaries around the state. Lucas claimed to have committed his first murder in 1951, when he strangled 17-year-old Laura Burnsley, who refused his sexual advances. As with most of his confessions, he later retracted this claim. On June 10, 1954, Lucas was convicted on over a dozen counts of burglary in and around Richmond, Virginia, and was sentenced to four years in prison. He escaped in 1957, was recaptured three days later, and was released on September 2, 1959.
On January 11, 1960, in Tecumseh, Michigan, Lucas killed his mother during the course of an ongoing argument regarding whether or not he should return home to his mother’s house to care for her as she grew older. He claimed she struck him over the head with a broom, at which point he struck her on the neck and she fell. Lucas then fled the scene. Lucas claimed to have attacked his mother only in self-defense, but his claim was rejected, and he was sentenced to between 20 and 40 years’ imprisonment in Michigan for second-degree murder. After serving 10 years in prison, he was released in June 1970 due to prison overcrowding.
Lucas drifted around the American South, ending up in Florida where he made the acquaintance of Ottis Toole in 1976 and had a sexual relationship with Toole’s 12-year-old niece, Frieda Powell, who had escaped from a juvenile detention facility. Lucas and Toole both called Powell “Becky,” partly to disguise her identity and because Powell preferred it over her given name. In 1978, Lucas and Toole formed what has been called a “homosexual crime team” and embarked on a cross-country murder spree. Lucas would later claim that during this period he had killed hundreds of people, with Toole assisting him in 108 murders.
Lucas later recanted his confessions, and flatly stated “I am not a serial killer” in a letter to researcher Brad Shellady. Lucas confessed to involvement in about 600 murders, but a more widely circulated total of about 350 murders committed by Lucas is based on confessions deemed “believable” by a Texas-based Lucas Task Force, a group which was later criticized by then-Attorney General of Texas, Jim Mattox, and others for sloppy police work and taking part in an extended “hoax”.
Beyond his recantation, some of Lucas’ confessions have been challenged as inaccurate by a number of critics, including law enforcement and court officials. Lucas claimed to have been initially subjected to poor treatment and coercive interrogation tactics while in police custody, and to have confessed to murders in an effort to improve his living conditions. Amnesty International reported “the belief of two former state Attorneys General that Lucas was in all likelihood innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to death”.
Lucas’s sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1998 by then-Governor George W. Bush. It was the first successful commutation of a death sentence in Texas since the re-institution of the death penalty in Texas in 1982. Lucas died in prison of natural causes. Lucas still maintains a reputation, in the words of author Sarah L. Knox, “as one of the world’s worst serial killers—even after the debunking of the majority of his confessions by the Attorney General of Texas”.
The sordid life of Lucas inspired Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, a 1986 psychological thriller (released in 1990) directed and co-written by John McNaughton about the random crime spree of a serial killer who seemingly operates with impunity. It starred Michael Rooker as the nomadic killer Henry, Tom Towles as Otis, a prison buddy with whom Henry is living, and Tracy Arnold as Becky, Otis’ sister. The character of Henry is loosely based on Henry Lee Lucas.