It’s hardly as though all I knew him from was Tombstone. It’s just that I’m shocked every time a headline mentions Sin City instead. Because, let’s face it, when we think of Powers Boothe, most of us think of him in Western clothes. Whether it’s as Curly Bill or as Cy Tolliver, we picture him in a wild wilderness town. And, boy, what’s his death going to do to the rumoured completed Deadwood script? Because the introduction of Cy Tolliver was the perfect balance to Al Swearengen in a lot of ways, and I have no idea what the movie would look like without him.
He actually was the son of a Texas rancher. That actually is his real name. And he got his start playing Shakespeare, which is less bizarre than it sounds, I think; there’s no reason Shakespeare can’t be done in all kinds of accents. But what brought Boothe to prominence was a performance as Jim Jones in a made-for-TV movie, Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (which also featured, among others, Brad Dourif). He won an Emmy for the role, beating out Henry Fonda and Jason Robards. Jones was only one of the historical figures booth played over the years, everyone from Jacques d’Arc to Alexander Haig.
He frequently played a figure of menace; he appears in the DCAU as Gorilla Grodd, and he’s Gideon Malick in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (And, of course, Alexander Haig in Nixon. That was unsurprising; he, like his opposite number Ian McShane, was quite skilled at projecting an aura of intimidation. One of the reasons Tombstone works much better than most other versions of the Wyatt Earp story is Boothe’s ominous attitude. Even when he’s having fun, it feels as though he’s planning to kill someone who might or might not be you. That’s just how he rolls.
He said he played just as many roles where he got the girl, but if he did, they’re in the movies I haven’t seen yet. Mostly, I saw him playing villains. Or people of ambiguous morality. Or historical figures of ambiguous morality; I haven’t seen the Hatfields & McCoys miniseries he’s in, but it’s hard to believe anyone comes across as a hero in that. I mean, you’d hope not, right? So I don’t know. I’m sure he’s done a few—he played Philip Marlowe for a couple of seasons—but I have no idea in what, even just looking over his IMDb page.
But, in life, he definitely got the girl. As in, wife Pam, whom he married in 1969. They had two children. Obviously, I don’t know much about their relationship, but she was his college sweetheart. It seems common to me that people who play heavies are nice guys with decent lives offscreen, and that appears true in this case as well. I’ll always love him as Curly Bill, but the world is better off with fewer Curly Bills and more Powers Boothes. It’s a shame that, today, we have one fewer.