It’s a cliché, but the late Dick Miller may well have been the exemplar of the saying, “You might not know the name, but you’d definitely know the face.” Passing away at the age of ninety, Dick Miller has an IMDB credit list as long as your arm, dating back to his big screen debut in 1955’s Apache Woman. In between that and his final credited performance in the yet-to-be-released horror film, Hanukkah, the New York-born Miller – who served in the US Navy before enjoying a brief but successful career as a middleweight boxer – appeared in many exploitation, B-grade and cult films. Short, jittery and energetic, he was noticed by uber-producer Roger Corman upon moving to LA, and quickly became the prolific filmmaker’s go-to character actor, playing a variety of bad guys and oddballs with lip-smacking relish.
A rare leading role came with Corman’s 1959 horror flick, A Bucket Of Blood, in which Miller practically swallowed the sets and furniture around him as a murderous beatnik artist, but it was as a supporting player that Miller made his cinematic bones, with roles in the likes of Little Shop Of Horrors, The Wild Angels, The Trip, Night Call Nurses, Big Bad Mama, and White Line Fever. Miller was also a big-time favourite of film savvy directors who clocked his cult cache, with the likes of Martin Scorsese (After Hours, New York, New York), James Cameron (The Terminator), and Quentin Tarantino (his deleted scenes from Pulp Fiction can be seen on the Blu-ray) all booking him for eye-catching walk-ons.
Outside of Roger Corman, however, Dick Miller’s biggest fan was always director, Joe Dante, who cast the veteran character actor in practically every film that he made, including The Howling, Gremlins (both of which boast pure Miller comedic genius), Hollywood Boulevard, Piranha, Innerspace, Matinee, The Hole, and more. “I’m devastated to report that one of my best friends and most treasured collaborators has passed away,” Joe Dante said on Twitter. “A great actor, and an even better person,” tweeted Miller’s Gremlins co-star, Zach Galligan, of Miller, how is survived by his wife since 1959, Lainie Miller. “So privileged to have worked with you. You taught this young actor so much. My condolences to Lainie and his children. This one hurts a lot. Rest in peace.”
The final word, however, should probably go to the man who started it all for this much loved character. “Dick Miller and I were friends for over 60 years,” tweeted Roger Corman. “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. Dick was able to take what was written and reach the deepest depths of the character while still injecting humor into each role. I will remember the brilliance of his acting talent, but more importantly his humanity and kindness as a friend. My deepest condolences to Lainie and their family. I will miss Dick greatly.” So will we…