William Smith, ‘Laredo’ and ‘Hawaii Five-O’ Star, Dies at 88

by Emily Morgan
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William Smith, the actor, known for his roles on “Laredo,” “Rich Man, Poor Man” and “Hawaii Five-O,” has died at 88.

Smith, a prolific actor with nearly 300 credits on his IMDb profile, starred alongside fellow bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian and spoke fluent Russian in Red Dawn. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Smith died Monday in Woodland Hills, calif. His wife, Joanne Cervelli Smith, did not reveal the cause of his death.

He was every casting director’s number one pick when it came to finding the perfect rugged actor. In 1969, he starred in Run, Angel, Run! and The Losers in 1970 and Angels Die Hard that same year. 

On TV, he brought his rough exterior to NBC’s “Laredo,” when he starred as a gunfighter turned Texas Ranger, Joe Riley. He later joined CBS’ original “Hawaii Five-O “for its final year to portray Det. James “Kimo” Carew.

Before Hollywood fame, Smith was born on a cattle ranch in Columbia, Missouri, on March 24, 1933. Smith and his family moved to Southern and got his first taste of acting when he was an uncredited child extra on set with Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). He also had appearances on The Song of Bernadette (1943), Going My Way (1944), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945).

William Smith Remembered for Talent & Brawns

In 1951, he enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War. There, he became fluent in Russian, German, French, and Serbo-Croatian. This got him noticed by the CIA and NSA, who gave him a teaching position within the agencies. While working towards a doctorate in foreign-language studies, MGM offered Smith an acting contract that he couldn’t pass up. 

In 1961, he starred in the ABC police drama “The Asphalt Jungle” with Jack Warden. Later, in 1963, he worked on the BBC series “Zero One” alongside Nigel Patrick.

In addition to acting, Smith was also an athlete. The 6-foot-2 actor was a champion discus thrower at UCLA as well as an arm-wrestling champion. He also had a black belt in martial arts. Moreso, he was known for his 18-inch biceps and could reportedly do 5,100 continuous sit-ups and reverse curl over 150 pounds. 

His athleticism led him to become an inductee into the Muscle Beach Venice Bodybuilding Hall of Fame. It also made him the ideal for the role of Adonis on ABC’s “Batman.”

In 1980s’ Any Which Way You Can, Smith’s character faces off with Clint Eastwood’s Philo Beddoe in the bare-knuckle bout through the streets of Wyoming. 

“It has to be one of the longest two-man fights ever done on film without doubles,” Smith said in an interview. “We shot it in Jackson, Wyoming, which is about 8,000 feet high in altitude, and I was smoking so hard at the time.”

In addition to his wife of over 30 years, survivors include his children, William E. Smith III and Sherri Anne Cervelli.

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