Dick Miller, character actor and Roger Corman mainstay, dies at 90
Dick Miller, a character actor whose reputation as a regular in dozens of low-budget movies produced or directed by Roger Corman led to parts in films by acolytes of Corman like Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, and James Cameron, died Wednesday in Burbank, Calif. He was 90.
His wife, Lainie Miller, said he died after a heart attack and had congestive heart failure and pneumonia.
Mr. Miller was a diminutive actor with an authentic Bronx accent and youthful good looks that later matured into craggier features. In a career that began in the mid-1950s, he appeared in nearly 200 films and television shows.
Corman cast Mr. Miller in his first film role, as an Indian in the western “Apache Woman” (1955), and he soon became a stock player in Corman’s relentless stream of horror, science fiction, and crime movies.
Mr. Miller could imbue even meager parts with authenticity, making Corman’s over-the-top films more believable or adding to their camp, depending on one’s point of view. He played a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman in “Not of This Earth” (1957), a leper in “The Undead” (1957), and a scientist in “War of the Satellites” (1958), among numerous roles.
Corman cast Mr. Miller as the lead in two films relatively early in his career. He played a nightclub patron who stands up to thugs in “Rock All Night” (1957) and a would-be beatnik artist turned murderer in the horror comedy “A Bucket of Blood” (1959).
“We made many movies together over many decades, but I will always think of him as the beat artist Walter Paisley in ‘A Bucket of Blood,’ ” Corman wrote on Twitter after Mr. Miller’s death. “Dick was able to take what was written and reach the deepest depths of the character while still injecting humor into each role.”
“A Bucket of Blood” became a cult favorite, and Mr. Miller became identified with Corman’s films. This was especially true among filmmakers whose early works were produced by Corman, like Dante, Scorsese, and Cameron. Mr. Miller’s acting career endured when this new generation added him to their roster.
Mr. Miller played a veteran terrorized by mischievous monsters in Dante’s “Gremlins” (1984), a nightclub owner in Scorsese’s musical drama “New York, New York” (1977), and a gun-shop clerk who helps outfit a murderous robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Cameron’s “The Terminator” (1984).
In several later films, Mr. Miller’s character was named Walter Paisley, an inside joke and an homage to his best-known part. His last role was in the forthcoming horror movie “Hanukkah,” as Rabbi Walter Paisley.
Richard Miller was born in the Bronx, N.Y., on Dec. 25, 1928, to Ira Miller, a printer, and Rita (Blucher) Miller, an opera singer, who encouraged him to sing before an audience in the Catskills as a boy.
After graduating from high school, he served in the Navy. He then returned to New York, where — even though he later said he had no great acting ambitions — he studied theater.
Mr. Miller moved to Hollywood in the early 1950s to try writing scripts, without much success. He met Lainie Halpern there in 1959, and they married that year.
In addition to his wife, with whom he lived in Los Angeles, he leaves a brother, William Miller, a state Supreme Court judge in Brooklyn; a daughter, Barbara Ann Levandoski; and a granddaughter.
Mr. Miller’s other roles include a police chief who calls the Ramones “ugly, ugly people” in Allan Arkush’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” (1979) and an eccentric flower-shop customer in Corman’s “The Little Shop of Horrors” (1960), which also featured Jack Nicholson in a bit part. Mr. Miller had a recurring role as the proprietor of a bowling alley on the 1980s television show “Fame,” based on the 1980 movie about a performing arts high school.
He was also credited with the stories for two 1970 movies, the western “Four Rode Out” and the Jerry Lewis comedy “Which Way to the Front?”
He was the subject of a documentary released in 2014, “That Guy Dick Miller.”