Superfans of the indelible “Walking Dead” series will be devastated to hear that actor Scott Wilson passed away on Saturday after battling leukemia.
Announcing the 76-year-old’s death that evening, the official Twitter “Walking Dead” fanpage offered their condolences: “We are deeply saddened to report that Scott Wilson, the incredible actor who played Hershel on #TheWalkingDead, has passed away,” the statement read. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends. Rest in paradise, Scott. We love you!”
In an example of art imitating life, Wilson’s character on the AMC zombie thriller, Hershel Greene, was a man of experience and wisdom, serving as the show’s “moral authority,” according to the New York Times. Wilson developed some of these same traits from a long and successful acting career, telling The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2006, “I’ve played killers, and I’ve played saints. It’s been an interesting life.”
In their own statement responding to Wilson’s death, AMC called the actor “the emotional core” of the program who “embodies” the “‘Walking Dead.’” “Scott will always be remembered as a great actor and we all feel fortunate to have known him as an even better person,” the network wrote.
Silver screen sensation
William Delano Wilson was born in Atlanta, GA, the son of building contractor who died while Wilson was still very young. While his father had aspirations for Wilson to become an architect or engineer, the young man chose a different path which included hitchhiking to Hollywood with just $40 in his pocket and an unfulfilled dream.
Wilson worked tirelessly to land his first role on the silver screen, taking five years of acting classes, participating in workshops and regularly acting in local plays before landing his first big break. Benefiting from industry networks he established from years of training, Wilson was introduced to director Norman Jewison and producer Walter Mirisch and hired to play the role of a murder suspect in 1967’s In the Heat of the Night.
The crime drama went on to win an Oscar, and Wilson developed a close relationship with the film’s star, Sidney Poitier. Thanks to a recommendation from his new friend, Wilson landed the role of a lifetime in Richard Brooks’ adaptation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.
Wilson was thankful for the opportunity to play murderer Dick Hickock, who, along with his accomplice Perry Smith (Robert Blake), comprised the movie’s legendary arch-villains. “Every actor in the English-speaking world wanted those two roles, including [Paul] Newman and [Steve] McQueen,” Wilson informed the Los Angeles Times in 1996. “Brooks hired two ‘unknowns,’ and he wanted to keep it that way. We were treated like two killers he had somehow run across.”
To the regret of many filmmakers in the industry, leading roles never followed the critical success that Wilson experienced from the Capote reprisal. He called this period a time of “dark holes” in his career, where Wilson was unable to land steady jobs as a character actor. While he was cast in supporting roles in 1969’s Castle Keep and The Gypsy Moths, 1971’s The Grissom Gang and 1972’s The New Centurions, these movies were hardly commensurate with his great talent.
“Scott is one of those guys who’s powerful, perversely, because he doesn’t call attention to himself,” recalled director Steve Klove in 1996. “I’d love to find something just for him, to write a movie where he’s the guy.”
Other, more prominent roles for Wilson included 1974’s version of The Great Gatsby as the novel’s villain, and he won a Golden Globe supporting actor nomination in 1980 for his role as a mentally disturbed astronaut in The Ninth Configuration.
On the television screen, Wilson made regular appearances in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and, more recently, on the sci-fi Netflix series “The OA.”
Wilson’s authenticity in both movies and on television was undeniable throughout his career. “I think you always get a credibility out of me,” he once said. “I think you always get a believability out of me.”
Wilson is survived by his wife, Heavenly (Koh) Wilson, a lawyer and artist.