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Richard Lynch - A tribute

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Paying homage to an underrated B-movie actor who once thought of himself as "a thoroughbred without the proper track to run on"...

Richard Lynch - A tribute

Once again 2012 saw the passing of another cult favorite with the death of one of the exploitation cinema’s greatest villains. On 19 June 2012, the versatile and highly underrated Richard Lynch was found dead at his home in Yucca Valley, California by his good friend, actress Carol Vogel. She had not heard from him for several days and turned up at his home only to find his front door ajar and the actor’s body in the kitchen.

The death of Richard Lynch marked an end to a career that many fans felt should have been a lot better. After a promising start in films following extensive theatre training, Lynch never achieved the major success he deserved. It was a big shame because had real screen presence. He always brought a raw and dangerous edge to his many cinema and TV roles, that was made all the more powerful by his handsome, fire scarred face and rugged, muscular frame. Unfortunately mainstream producers found it difficult to make use of Lynch’s aggressive, forthright style and virile intensity, and before long the actor found himself in the treadmill of bland TV guest appearances and grade Z exploitation features that often went direct to video.

Richard Hugh Lynch was born in Brooklyn, New York on 12 February 1936. He was one of seven children (his brother Barry also became an actor) born to Irish Catholic parents. Throughout his life Lynch always retained his very strong links to his Irish ancestry. He held duel American/Irish citizenship and in his later years made regular trips to County Cork. The cultural arts were equally important to the actor. An accomplished guitarist, pianist, saxophonist and flautist, Lynch also spoke fluent German, Russian, Spanish, Italian and Swahili.

In 1958 Lynch joined the Marine Corp. During his four-year service he toured the Middle East with the Sixth Fleet. Rising to the rank of corporal, he was discharged in 1962 to pursue an acting career.

Lynch began his training with Herbert Begoff and Uta Hagen at H B Studios in New York's Greenwich Village. He later studied at Lee Strasberg’s famous Actors Studio at Carnegie Hall (he became a lifetime member in 1970). For the next three years Lynch worked extensively with the New York Community Theatre, acting mainly in off-Broadway productions. Already experienced in Shakespeare and Checkov, his stage credits include The Basic Training of Pavel Hummel, The Lion in Winter, Richard III, A View From the Bridge and opposite Shelley Winters in One Night Stands of a Noisy Passenger. He finally made his official Broadway debut in The Devils.

In 1967, Lynch’s acting career almost came to a very tragic end. He was living in a New York apartment, which he shared with fellow actor and lifelong friend Don Calfa, when he took LSD. He later set himself on fire in Central Park just behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art near Cleopatra’s Needle. Although he recovered the drug fueled incident left his face badly scarred. In later years Lynch bravely spoke about the event in an anti-drug documentary.

Lynch entered films late in his fairly late in his career. Making his debut opposite Gene Hackman and Al Pacino in The Scarecrow (1973), he received critical acclaim for his performance and the film itself won the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Film Festival. He followed up his good start with the equally interesting efforts The Seven-Ups (1973) and Open Season (1974).

Sadly Lynch never quite fulfilled his early promise. His appearance in the TV pilot Starsky and Hutch (1975) and his demonic role in God Told Me To (1976) quickly paved the way for and unbroken run of villains and psychos in numerous horror films and urban crime thrillers. Television also made very good use of his raw, powerful edge as he guest starred in just about every crime series going.

Had Lynch been in films a decade earlier, he would have made an excellent juvenile lead opposite Vincent Price in AIP’s Poe movies. Blonde and menacing with his good looks altered by the LSD incident, Lynch was like a cross between Klaus Kinski and Rutger Hauer. His rich, Shakespearean delivery, well modulated speaking voice, noble bearing and classical stage background was useful when playing assorted demons, cult leader, knights, kings and wizards in a variety of horror/fantasy films. At the opposite end of the spectrum, he was equally effective playing white trash punks and criminals in more modern day efforts.

Lynch gave his best acting performance as Prince Anton Voytek in the TV movie Vampire (1979). Putting his classical stage training to excellent use, Lynch is strikingly charismatic in the role. Making a charming and intelligent vampire, the suppressed menace was never far away. It would have been interesting to see how he would fair as Dracula (he certainly would have made an effective Lestat). Sadly Vampire was a wasted opportunity. Thanks to a labored production and surprisingly bland supporting performances, it came across, as another run-of-the-mill TV movie and plans for a series did not materialize.

Lynch remained prolific and menacing throughout the eighties even if most of his movie output went direct-to-video. He alternated from mainstream roles in The Formula (1980) and The Ninth Configuration (1980) to exploitive with his frightening performance as the Jim Jones inspired cult leader who sets himself alight (art imitating life) in Bad Dreams (1988). His critically received performance as King Cromwell in The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982) won him the Saturn Award for Best Actor at the Academy of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Lynch also appeared in a number of movies produced outside the States. This included The Korean War (2001), a TV movie that marked the first co-production between America and China.

Lynch had been married twice. His first marriage to Beatrix ended in divorce. At the time if his death he was married to Lily Lynch. His son Christopher (from his first marriage) was also an actor, who appeared with his father in Trancers II (1991). Sadly he died of pneumonia in 2005 at the age of 35.

Lynch was less active at the start of the Millennium, no doubt winding down his acting commitments to devote more time to fishing, art, architecture, Gospel music and poetry. At the time of writing, the cause and the circumstances surrounding his death has not been confirmed although there doesn’t to appear to be anything suspicious.

Richard Lynch once described himself as “a thoroughbred without the proper track to run on.” That pretty much summed up a prolific but not altogether satisfactory film career. He was a brilliant and talented actor with a wide range of abilities who was sadly squandered in a slew of low budget exploitation movies. But no matter how bad the film, Richard Lynch rose above the silliness around him to give an intelligent and menacing performance that showed the stuff of great acting.

See also:

Robert Fuest - A tribute

The loneliness of the long-distance 'B'-movie fan


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Comments 

 
#1 I Will Miss You Richard! Eilidh Somerville 2012-08-23 14:54
This is one of the best tributes to Richard I have read. I completely agree that he was wasted far too often in mediocre tripe. I was a huge fan years ago, but to be honest, I gave up following his career due to all the horrid productions he appeared in. There is a limit as to how often one can sit through films filled with lacklustre actors (apart from Richard that is) and dialogue that could have been written by a ten-year-old. Not to mention all the nasty horrors he was in. I know there are movie fans out there who like to see people being decapitated, dismembered, disemboweled, etc, but not me. There are far too many atrocities in real life without being reminded of them in ‘entertainment’ . I wish that Richard could have been in some nice family films. That way he could have shown more of his own lovely personality through his work. However, he did play the good guy a few times, but once again those occasions were in straight-to-video B-movies (usually pornographic and violent in nature). I also found him to be extremely good looking and it is an absolute shame that his scars were used against him. To me, they didn’t make him look menacing or evil. They just added to his appeal. When I started to realise what an amazing actor he was (just over a decade ago), I joined his official website’s Yahoo group, and I can remember saying that I must get on a plane to meet him (as I live in Scotland) at a convention. I never did and I deeply regret not doing so. He was by every account a magnificent human being, an actor who stood head and shoulders above the rest, and who was very appreciative of his fans. There was never a negative word said about him. Rest peacefully Richard. You will be sorely missed.
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#2 Thank You Mark Iveson 2012-08-31 14:08
A big thank you for you wonderful and very positive response. Mr Lynch was the stuff that good actors were made of. I'm glad the piece meant a great deal to you.

Yes definately RIP to a great man
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