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DC Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves arrived on small screens across America in 1952. Since then, live-action adaptations of DC Comics have been an on-and-off fixture in American mass media. We can glean a sense for the concerns, trends, and definitive events of an American era from how the creators of the time envision Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the gang. Superheroes are kind of like the mediums of film and television themselves, in that respect. 

The TV Batman of 1966 (Adam West) might find himself tempted to join the peace and love generation; whereas the decisively less groovy movie Batman of 2008 (Christian Bale) constructs a blatantly illegal, high-tech surveillance state for the sole purpose of catching The Joker (Heath Ledger). Clark Kent as depicted by George Reeves certainly never uses a cell phone, but Tyler Hoechlin's Clark uses modern gadgets all the time; someday, Superman fans will look back and laugh at all the hilariously antiquated technology and pop culture references on Superman & Lois.     

Of course, with a group of intellectual properties as vast and diverse as the DC Universe continuing to reboot with new actors once every handful of years, sooner or later, some of those actors will die. While a few of those deaths have been very high profile — Christopher Reeve and Ledger, for instance — others might have slipped under your radar. Here is a group that didn't get as much attention as the mega-stars. 

Jackie Cooper was an Oscar nominee at age nine

When it comes to daily newspaper editors who unknowingly work alongside world-famous crime fighters, J. Jonah Jameson of The Daily Bugle tends to overshadow Perry White of The Daily Planet. That's got nothing to do with either of their journalistic abilities, of course; J.J.'s just a larger-than-life personality, and essentially one of the villains in many Spider-Man stories. On the other hand, Perry White's such a diehard print media professional and advocate, he's been played by many more actors than J.J., who's principally associated with the version played by J.K. Simmons in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy.

Although he's not the only live-action Perry White, the Superman world's answer to Simmons is probably Jackie Cooper, who corrects Clark Kent's spelling errors in Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), and Superman IV (1987). Despite a major role in one of the most successful film franchises of the 1980s, Cooper arguably never surpassed the career zenith he hit at the age of nine, when he became the youngest actor ever nominated for Best Actor at the 1931 Academy Awards. But you could also argue that acting steadily in film and television from the early '30s up until 1990 is a bigger accomplishment than any single role or nomination. Cooper died in 2011 at the age of 88. 

Margot Kidder helped establish the modern Lois Lane

The tragically short nature of Christopher Reeve's life has been widely publicized, but we don't think it's a stretch to suggest the world could have used at least a few additional years of Margot Kidder, who moved on to the next plane of existence in May of 2018 at 69.

Arguably, no major DC character has evolved and improved over the decades more than Lois Lane. Once a bumbling, air-headed klutz in constant need of rescue, today's Lois is a world-famous journalist and media personality, generally depicted as a savvier operator than her Kryptonian husband. Now and again, Lois does her own fair share of meta-human adjacent crime fighting, albeit in a far less conspicuous capacity than her spouse or most of his colleagues.

Kidder appears in all the Superman films co-starring Reeve, and we need only focus on Superman II for examples of Kidder helping undo the perception of Lois as a mere damsel in distress. Kidder's Lois isn't oblivious; she's occasionally reckless, but only when journalistic truth is at stake. Unlike previous iterations, Kidder's Lois figures out her bumbling co-worker and the literal benevolent space god that follows her around happen to be the same guy, setting a precedent for future Lois Lanes who don't buy that silly glasses disguise either.  

Michael Gough attended to three different Dark Knights

The series of Batman films starting with Batman (1989) and ending with Batman & Robin (1997) can feel a little disjointed. Beginning in a gloomy, quirky iteration of Gotham directed by Tim Burton and ending with a candy-coated cartoon fever dream imaged by Joel Schumacher, the series foregoes a solid sense of consistency...except when it comes to Alfred. 

Veteran British actor Michael Gough holds down the fort as Batman's congenial butler Alfred Pennyworth in all four films: Batman, Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin. As is more-or-less customary for Alfred, Gough's version functions as a voice of reason throughout Batman's adventures. While he's more than happy to help Bruce and his sidekicks save the world, he'd sleep a little easier if his surrogate son could just get set up with a nice girl and hang up the vampire costume.

Gough's TV, film, and theater career started in the mid-1940s, so to say there was a little more to his career than his run as Alfred would be a substantial understatement. Gough passed on in March 2011 at 94, roughly a mere six years short of triple digits.  

Jeep Swenson was the Bane of Batman fans' existence

During the period between The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Suicide Squad (2016), we're pretty sure Bane was tied with The Joker and Two-Face as the only male Batman villains to each appear in a pair of modern blockbusters. With all due respect to Jeep Swenson, who portrayed the venomed-up villain in Batman & Robin, it's probably fair to say audiences prefer the version of Bane played by Tom Hardy in the 2012 Christopher Nolan movie. But we don't say that to diminish Swenson's acting abilities. After all, the problems with Batman & Robin extend far, far, far beyond its presentation of Bane.  

Swenson caught more than one significant crummy break during his essentially successful career, in which he spent time in multiple sections of the entertainment industry. His tenure with the once prominent but currently defunct World Championship Wrestling might have lasted longer had that organization's creative department come up with a less aggressively offensive and anti-Semitic name for him than "The Final Solution."  Swenson left existence as we know it shortly after the release of Batman & Robin in 1997 at the age of 40. 

William Hootkins's Lt. Eckhardt fell foul of the Joker

You might not immediately recognize his name; but we assure you, you know William Hootkins. 

He's noted here specifically for his turn as the corrupt Lt. Eckhardt in Batman and, to a lesser extent, for the solemn duty of performing in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in the guise of Harry Howler. But the character actor had a few more notable credits. For instance, ever heard of this movie from the 1970s called Star Wars? In that film, his character, named Porkins, pilots a ship called an "X-Wing" and attacks a moon-sized space station known as the "Death Star." Believe it not, it was considered a pretty successful project at the time! Even inspired a few sequels. Who could have guessed?

Though known for bit parts in Hollywood, his reputation in London's theater scene was a different story. His Guardian obituary cites his ongoing starring role in the play Hitchcock Blonde as his career's greatest triumph. But for actors with as many projects under their belt as Hootkins — a onetime high school classmate of Tommy Lee Jones — what they're "known for" becomes a matter of subjectivity in some respects. He died in 2005 at the age of 57. 

Pat Hingle also anchored four Batman movies

Throughout the last handful of decades, the character of Commissioner James Gordon has been defined by his depiction in writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli's Batman: Year One (1987), which is continued via Gary Oldman in the post-2000 trilogy of Batman movies directed by Christopher Nolan. We think of Gordon as a morally upright and extra-competent realist, who's nevertheless willing to bend the rules in the interest of justice. For better or worse, that means the bumbling iteration of Gordon played by Pat Hingle in the first series of modern Batman movies, which is in keeping with the previous version played by Neil Hamilton on the 1966 Batman TV show, doesn't resonate as an "authentic" Gordon for reasons totally unrelated to the actors involved.  

As far as Hingle goes, he enjoyed a career that resonated far beyond Gotham, having worked in a staggering array of movies, TV shows, and stage plays. His L.A. Times obit points out that he acted alongside Clint Eastwood, Marlon Brando, Sally Field, Warren Beatty, and The Muppets, so maybe it doesn't matter so much if he isn't anyone's personal favorite James Gordon. Hingle died in 2009 at the age of 84.     

Jan Hooks tried to put gloves on a Penguin

A fixture of televised comedy since her late '80s stint on Saturday Night Live, with subsequent recurring roles on The Simpsons and 3rd Rock From the Sun, Jan Hooks did not need to pretend to work in image consulting in Batman Returns to secure her showbiz legacy. But her metaphorical cup of coffee in one of the DC Cinematic Universes certainly didn't hurt her, right? 

Evil businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) hires her character to explain stuff to presumptive Gotham City mayoral candidate The Penguin (Danny DeVito), like why voters prefer fingers to flippers — and in doing so, reminds us of a time when a Batman movie could include a joke or two without anyone considering it a problem. 

The Tim Burton-directed sequel to Batman isn't Hooks's only DC-related credit. She also plays a woman who claims to be raising Superman's love child on CBS-TV's Superman 50th Anniversary Special (1988), a lighthearted slice of Superman ephemera also featuring Dana Carvey, The Amazing Kreskin, and Lou Reed. 

Hooks moved on to her next life in 2014 at 57 years old.      

Rick Zumwalt was killed by...the Batman?

While Hollywood knew him for his contributions to Batman Returns and Sylvester Stallone's Over The Top (1987), Rick Zumwalt began his career as an arm wrestling champion in the 1970s. This aspect of his biography leads us to suspect that he required no CG enhancements to look like a totally huge dude during his Batman Returns scene, in which Batman blows Zumwalt's character, "Tattooed Strongman," to bits faster than you can say, "But wait, doesn't Batman have a rule against killing people?" 

Zumwalt also racked up an impressive list of television credits, including guest roles on Freddy's Nightmares, Jake and the FatmanFull House, and many others. We're fairly certain that he's the only actor to ever get killed by Batman onscreen, and also shares a scene on Full House with "Uncle" Jesse Katsopolis (John Stamos), in which he lends his massive arms to aid Uncle Jesse in his quest to recover Michelle Tanner's stolen pink tricycle.

 Zumwalt passed on in 2003 at the age of 51.

Vincent Schiavelli didn't monkey around as an actor

Danny DeVito's Penguin recruits a wide variety of minions for his crime spree in Batman Returns, although they don't all have obvious utilitarian value. If you're putting together a gang to inflict the maximum amount of violence and mayhem, then why bother signing up an organ grinder? Penguin's thinking may be too sophisticated for online content creators like us to comprehend, so we just have to take it on faith that the musical accompaniment produced by Vincent Schiavelli's character, plus the amusement provided by his dancing monkey, were essential to Oswald Cobblepot's diabolical machinations. 

Beyond the confines of Batman Returns, Schiavelli carved out a niche as one of the great character actors of his era with turns in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1975), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Amadeus (1984), and Ghost (1990). X-Files fans may recognize him from the cult favorite episode "Humbug," in which he guest stars along with Michael J. Anderson and Jim Rose, founder of the circus of the same name

Schiavelli passed away in 2005 at the age of 57. 

Rene Auberjonois ran Arkham Asylum

A high-ranking staff member at Arkham Asylum who happens to be named "Dr. Burton" isn't even close to the goofiest thing in Batman Forever. But creating a toss-away character for the purposes of delivering a good-natured dig at director Tim Burton, who oversaw the previous two Batman films, feels like a cheeky move on the part of director Joel Schumacher.   

We suppose it would be disappointing for René Auberjonois if his only major acting work consisted of a brief scene as a gag character at the end of a lesser Batman movie, but that's not even close to the case. Though he either contributed a physical or vocal performance to an insane amount of TV shows, including numerous DC and Marvel animated projects, Auberjonois is most widely remembered as Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He died in 2019 — not long after the release of the critically-beloved First Cow, one of his last movies — at the age of 79.    

Lane Smith was Lois and Clark's boss

With his most recent on-screen iteration inhabited by film and television icon Laurence Fishburne, we could argue Daily Planet editor Perry White has evolved into something of a prestige role. But Lois and Clark's boss doesn't get to a place where Warner Brothers calls someone of Fishburne's caliber to play him unless a bunch of stellar actors pave the way. Lane Smith put enough memorable work into Perry White on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman for at least one person to assemble a highlight reel, but the world outside of superhero fandom probably recognizes him more readily for his role in My Cousin Vinny (1992).

But even if you're not a My Cousin Vinny fan, Smith's career started in the mid-1960s and carried on until his death in 2003, so there's plenty of other stuff you might know him from: the original series, Son In Law (1993) starring a pre-downfall Pauly Shore, and as the nefarious Coach Reilly in The Mighty Ducks (1992). Lane Smith passed away in 2005 at the age of 69.

Eddie Jones was a Pa Kent who stayed alive

Just as the current era associates Perry White with Lawrence Fishburne, today's movegoers may hear the phrase "Superman's dad" and think of Kevin Costner. But before Costner came along in Man of Steel (2013), Eddie Jones held down the fort as Jonathan Kent in the mid-'90s. 

Jones portrays one of the relatively few Jonathan Kents who lives long enough to see his adopted son grow up to be the world's premiere superhero. Whereas Costner's Jonathan Kent inexplicably dies to teach Clark why helping people is bad sometimes, here's Jones's Jonathan Kent, clearly still alive in a scene with his adult Superman son (Dean Cain).

Jones maintained a healthy track record as a film and television performer starting from the late '50s. But superhero nerds would know him mainly from Lois and Clark and as Malcolm the clown pilot in The Rocketeer (1991), helmed by future Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) director Joe Johnston. 

Jones died in July 2019 at the age of 84. 

Harve Presnell's Sam Lane clashed with daughter Lois

Sam Lane doesn't always get to live up to his full potential in live-action Superman iterations, so in a way, it's unfortunate that we must gloss over Harve Presnell's role as Lois Lane's estranged father on Lois & Clark to discuss his more significant work. 

The writer-director team of Joel and Ethan Coen put themselves on Hollywood's radar with Blood Simple (1984), but they didn't demonstrate their full mastery of small town murder drama until Fargo (1996). Used car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) hires a pair of hit men (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) for an elaborate kidnapping scheme designed to scam his father-in-law (Presnell). The situation collapses into a heap of tragic, bleeding shambles. Frances McDormand plays officer Marge Gunderson, a no-nonsense law enforcer who must right Lundegaard's many wrongs. 

The American Film Institute ranks Fargo as one of the top 100 films of all time, and it would be a completely different movie without the veteran Presnell's conjuring of Wade Gustafson — Lundegaard's overbearing father-in-law and would-be mark. Presnell died in 2009 at the age of 75.     

Fred Willard as President? Heck, yes!

Here's where we confess that calling screen comedy legend Fred Willard a "DC actor" is insanely reductive, and the same statement applies to a handful of entries on this list. But the mere fact that Willard — whose oblivious game show host-like persona added to the satirical irony of This Is Spinal Tap (1984), Best In Show (2000) and Anchorman (2004) — technically falls into the criteria of "DC actor" reminds us how deeply Superman and company had been embedded into pop culture, even decades before the modern superhero movie boom. 

Willard played the President of the United States on Lois & Clark, as well as the Deputy Mayor of Metropolis in the Superman 50th Anniversary Special. Somehow, in Superman-related media, Willard kept finding his way into positions of political power. We'd chalk that up to coincidence, if we believed in coincidence. Willard passed away in May of 2020 at the age of 86.

Biff Manard kept up with The Flash

The single-season TV show The Flash from the early '90s never managed to amass the retro-cool credibility of Batman from 1966 or Wonder Woman from 1975. There's probably multiple reasons for that, but a glance at the show's intro music and opening credits indicates that somebody in charge wanted very much for The Flash of network television to be the Batman of Tim Burton films. CBS didn't have the budget, and Barry Allen (John Wesley Shipp) doesn't have the angst to fulfill that expectation. 

That's kind of unfortunate for Biff Manard; IMDB credits him as appearing in 17 out of the 22-episode run of The Flash. That's not to say he didn't have a more-than-respectable career and legacy without an additional year of playing ersatz Commissioner Gordon — that is, Officer Michael Murphy — to Shipp's title hero. Manard shows up in both entries of the cult sci-fi series Trancers, and acted on a score of television shows throughout the '80s and '90s. He died in 2014 at the age of 71.   

Lee Thompson Young briefly played Cyborg

Cyborg has enjoyed something of a live action revival as of late. As played by Ray Fisher, he gets a heck of a lot more screen time in the recently-released Zack Snyder's Justice League than he does in the original edit, while an iteration played by Joivan Wade regularly appears on HBO Max's ongoing Doom Patrol series. But back in the 2000s, when studio executives falsely assumed television could only handle one DC-based primetime drama at a time, Lee Thompson Young was mass media's one and only, flesh-and-blood Victor Stone. Though he only drops by for three hour-long adventures with Clark Kent (Tom Welling) on Smallville, Young's version of Stone gets to co-found the Justice League alongside Green Arrow (Justin Hartley). That means the onetime Friday Night Lights and Famous Joe Jackson star definitely set some of the groundwork for Ray Fisher's tenure with the character. 

Young died by his own hand in 2013 at the age of 29. If you ever find yourself experiencing suicidal thoughts or a life-threatening degree of negative emotions, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 800-273-8255.    

Rutger Hauer almost snatched Wayne Enterprises from Bruce Wayne

Perhaps you already know that Rutger Hauer — certainly one of the most recognized character actors in sci-fi/fantasy — died in July 2019. And maybe you also already know he plays the nefarious Wayne Enterprises executive credited only as "Earle" in Batman Begins (2005). But we're certain not everyone reading this has picked up on both of these truisms.

While we left Heath Ledger and Christopher Reeve off this list because they're both highly-publicized celebrity deaths, their careers are both also closely associated with their tenures as major DC characters. Hauer, on the other hand, is probably too famous for the relatively minor part he plays in Batman Begins. We happen to know it's possible to watch multiple screenings of Batman Begins, and still not notice that's classic Blade Runner antagonist Roy Batty reassuring Bruce Wayne that he's got the best interests of the Wayne legacy at heart. 

Though Earle isn't a major part of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight (2008) wouldn't be the same movie if Bruce Wayne hadn't overcome a sleazy corporate ladder climber in the first part of the trilogy. Ergo, we can say there are two indispensable sci-fi/fantasy/action franchises that wouldn't be the same today without Hauer.   

Tom Lister Jr. foiled the Joker's plan

Heath Ledger's once-in-a-generation performance as The Joker tends to gobble up a huge chunk of the discourse when it comes to The Dark Knight, and rightfully so. But it's unfortunate how matters related to The Joker overshadow so many other components of Christopher Nolan's tour de force. Tom "Tiny" Lister Jr. only spends a few moments onscreen, but as the "tattooed inmate" who protects a ship full of civilians by tossing the switch to one of The Joker's bombs into the ocean, he certainly makes those few moments count. 

Lister's poignant appearance in The Dark Knight – the greatest superhero film of all time — isn't necessarily his most impressive career accomplishment. Back in the '80s, Lister went by the alias of "Zeus" and main-evented the 1989 "SummerSlam" pay-per-view card, teaming with "Macho Man" Randy Savage against the tandem of Hulk Hogan and Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake. The second phase of Lister's resume includes featured roles in The Dark Knight, Friday (1995), The Fifth Element (1997), Jackie Brown (1997), plus dozens of television shows and films. Basically, he's a wrestling-to-Hollywood success story that predates Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Dave Bautista by a few decades. 

 Lister passed away in December of 2020 at the age of 62.

Logan WIlliams was a young Barry Allen

Logan Williams appears as young Barry Allen in flashback and time travel sequences during the first two seasons of CW's The Flash. He also had a recurring role on the Hallmark Channel period drama When Calls The Heart, and landed his first role in the Hallmark movie The Color of Rain at the age of 10. He died in 2020 at 16 years old, after a three-year battle with opioid addiction. His mother Marlyse said at the time, "His death is not going to be in vain...he's going to help a lot of people down the road."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an excess of 36,000 people in the U.S. died from overdosing on synthetic opioids in 2019. The agency tentatively anticipates 2020's number of overdose deaths, once it's fully tallied, to be even higher due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, Logan Williams was one of those statistics far too early into his life and career. Individuals currently struggling with addiction should consider calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

Lyle Waggoner was Wonder Woman's first live-action love

Seeing how the Wonder Woman live-action TV series premiered some 46 years ago, it's not exactly surprising to learn that a good portion of the cast of Wonder Woman's first foray into the live-action realm are no longer among us. But having passed on in March of 2020 at the age of 84, Lyle Waggoner, the original on-screen Steve Trevor, came pretty close to not making it on this list. 

Already famous for his work on The Carol Burnett Show by the time Princess Diana of Themyscira entered his career, Waggoner remained a fairly constant presence on television after the four-season run of Wonder Woman concluded in 1979. His post-WW resume includes guest roles on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Murder She Wrote

As it happens, Waggoner found his way back into DC superhero-adjacent television with a voiceover gig on the straight-to-TV film, Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt (2003), a tongue-in-cheek, meta-sequel to the 1966 Batman series. 

Beatrice Colen provided a friend to Wonder Woman

Few comic book characters have proven themselves as elastic as Etta Candy. In some iterations of Wonder Woman's story, Candy lives during World War I; in others, she's a secretary for the Allied Forces during World War II. In contemporary comic books, Candy's an high-ranking military official herself, rather than an executive assistant. In '80s comic books, she dates Steve Trevor; in more recent comics, she dates Barbara Minerva. But Etta Candy's almost always a good pal to Princess Diana, so her most important in-story attribute remains consistent as heck. 

Beatrice Colen, unfortunately, left Wonder Woman after the conclusion of its first season in 1977. The show found a way for Princess Diana to travel to the present era, but not her quirky sidekick. Colen nevertheless held down a semi-regular role on Happy Days, and continued contributing walk-on roles to network television shows. She finally wrapped up her career with a part on The Secret World of Alex Mack in 1997, and died in 1999 at 51 years old age.