Once again, the sad duty falls to me to report the passing of an actor that many of us grew up watching on movie and TV screens: Ned Beatty died of natural causes Sunday at home in L.A. at 83, surrounded by friends and loved ones.
Beatty was one of those “I know the face, but what’s his name?” actors, and he once admitted, "For people like me, there’s a lot of ‘I know you! I know you! What have I seen you in?’" In his case, the answer was, “Practically everything.” Beatty once said he preferred being a character actor to being a star because stars become part of a brand and get predictable, and he liked to surprise the audience with the unexpected. He said, "Stars never want to throw the audience a curveball, but my great joy is throwing curveballs."
Influenced by the church he attended as a kid in Lexington, Kentucky, he originally aspired to be a priest, but his high school play, “Harvey” gave him the acting bug. After nearly two decades as a stage actor, he auditioned for movie director John Boorman. Boorman told him the part had already been cast, but changed his mind after seeing Beatty. That’s how he got his breakthrough role in 1972’s “Deliverance” as the unfortunate city slicker who met a fate in the backwoods that still makes viewers cringe.
By the time he retired in 2013, he’d racked up an astounding number of varied movie, TV and stage roles, including “Nashville,” “All the President’s Men,” the first two Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies (as Lex Luthor’s bumbling henchman), “Toy Story 3,” Broadway’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” a detective on “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” John Goodman’s dad on “Roseanne,” and possibly his most memorable role: the corporate CEO in “Network” who thunders to the errant news anchor, "You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!” He then explains that there is no America, no democracy, "There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today."
It was a shocking and chilling vision of the world in 1976. Today, it sounds like everyday reality. Just throw in Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter.