Clu Gulager, Classic TV and ‘Return of the Living Dead’ Star, Dead at 93

by Craig Garrett

Clu Gulager, a legendary character actor with an astounding 165 acting credits to his name, has died at age 93. Fans of classic tv will likely recognize Gulager for his many appearances on the small screen spanning decades. To scary movie lovers, Gulager was an icon, starring in 2 essential 80’s horror films. He famously played Burt in The Return of the Living Dead. He was also the sardonic Mr. Walsh in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

His final part was in 2019 when he played the owner of a bookstore that Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) visits in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He also collaborated with acclaimed filmmaker Sean Baker, appearing in 2015’s Tangerine. Baker took to Twitter on Saturday to pay a touching tribute to Clu Gulager.

Clu Gulager was born in Holdenville, Oklahoma, in 1928. The actor’s real name was William Martin Gulager. However, because his middle name is Martin and purple martins are frequently known as “clu-clu birds,” he received the Cherokee name “Clu” as a youngster. Gulager was a first cousin of famous humorist Will Rogers. Though he never equaled his illustrious relative’s popularity, he distinguished himself as a character actor.

Clu Gulager goes from TV cowboy to horror icon

He made his TV debut in 1956, alongside Paul Newman, in “Bang the Drum Slowly,” an episode of The United States Steel Hour drama anthology based on the novel of the same name. The Oklahoma native’s early career was spent playing heavies in tv crime classics like The Untouchables and The Lawless Years. His sympathetic portrayal of Billy the Kid on the 1960 NBC series The Tall Man led to his being a series regular on Whispering Smith. Eventually, he landed the role of Emmett Ryker through 103 episodes of The Virginian. In 1964, he starred alongside Lee Marvin in the Neo Noir classic, The Killers.

He attempted to become a filmmaker as the writer/director/producer of the short film “A Day With the Boys” (which earned him a Cannes Film Festival award nomination). However, Clu Gulager’s most famous subsequent movie performance was in 1971’s The Last Picture Show. In the 1980s, Gulager enjoyed a career resurgence. He appeared on multiple episodes of Murder She Wrote and The Fall Guy. Gulager also showed up on iconic programs like Knight Rider and Walker, Texas Ranger.

Clu Gulager is survived by his sons John and Tom. John is an established film director, mostly working in the horror genre. He directed his iconic father in 5 films.