Lloyd Bridges dies at 85 Appreciation: Actor, best known for role in TV's 'Sea Hunt,' moved from adventure to self-mockery in funny, late-life roles.

March 11, 1998|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Lloyd Bridges, a veteran film and television actor who moved from playing action-adventure heroes in his early days to bizarre comic characters in recent years, died last night at age 85, according to his agent.

The father of actors Beau and Jeff Bridges, who was perhaps best known for his role as Mike Nelson in the syndicated "Sea Hunt" television series, died in his Los Angeles home.

No further details were available, said agent Lee Stollman.

Bridges started in feature films in 1941 in westerns. His most widely seen film performance came in 1952 in "High Noon" as the deputy sheriff who did not come to the aid of Gary Cooper.

Bridges also made headlines in the early 1950s for admitting to being a former member of the Communist Party and serving as a key witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

There were many in Hollywood who never forgave Bridges for his testimony during that dark period of witch hunts and persecution.

Bridges' greatest success on television came from 1957 to 1961 on "Sea Hunt."

Ruggedly handsome and athletic, he played a diver in the action series that usually included at least one underwater rescue each week. The series was revived in 1987, but there was little interest and it was quickly canceled.

He had his own series on CBS from 1962 to '63, "The Lloyd Bridges Show," a weekly, half-hour anthology drama series. The first half of the season, he played writer Adam Shepherd, who would be transformed into the main character of the story after introducing the episode.

But, with sluggish ratings, the format changed to straight anthology in the second half of its run with Bridges serving only as host, as Ronald Reagan did on "Death Valley Days."

The most noteworthy aspects of the show: It launched Jeff and Beau on their acting careers, and Aaron Spelling was the executive producer.

During the 1970s, '80s and early '90s, Bridges starred in number of failed television pilots and short-lived series, such as "Joe Forrester," in which he played a veteran police officer. The NBC series ran September 1975 to August 1976.

In 1990, he played Jonathan Jo-Jo Turner, the gruff newspaper editor in "Capital News." That ABC series debuted on April 9, 1990, and was canceled by the end of the month.

Bridges found success in recent years playing eccentrics and assorted characters who were slightly off in one way or another.

In the "Airplane" film series, he played a gruff air-traffic controller who was wildly out of control himself on cigarettes and alcohol.

He played a similarly deranged character on several episodes of the NBC series "Seinfeld," an aged fitness nut who kept challenging Jerry Seinfeld to physical tests and injuring himself in the process.

In a subtle way, the role mocked the intense physicality of the Mike Nelson character many baby boomers remembered from their childhood television viewing.

For his part, Bridges said the television work that brought him the most joy was in "Harts of the West," another short-lived series that ran on CBS in 1993 and '94. The comedy-drama starred Beau Bridges as a middle-aged underwear salesman who, following a heart attack, quits his job and moves his family out west to start a dude ranch.

Lloyd Bridges played a crusty, old, crazed cowpoke living on the broken-down ranch who would become a surrogate member of the family.

Bridges credited his wife of more than 55 years, actress Dorothy Simpson, with helping him build one of Hollywood's longest-running careers, saying in a 1994 interview with the Los Angeles Times: "My career, what there is, didn't happen that easy. Thought I'd never get in that door. But I married someone who had faith in me. It helped, that's where a good marriage comes in."

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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