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Jeffrey DeMunn

Jeffrey DeMunn

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Also Known As: Jeffrey De Munn,Jeff Demunn Died:
Born: April 25, 1947 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Buffalo, New York, USA Profession: Cast ... actor
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BIOGRAPHY

Versatile, Lincoln-esque performer Jeffrey DeMunn was among a select group of stage, screen and television talents who defined the term "character actor." For over three decades, he moved effortlessly between roles as varied as Harry Houdini in "Ragtime" (1981) and playwright Clifford Odets in "Frances" (1982) to a fiendish serial killer in "Citizen X" (HBO, 1995) and a zombie hunter on "The Walking Dead" (AMC, 2010- ). His extensive theatrical background, which included a Tony-nominated turn in "K2" (1983), brought a strength of presence and oratory to his screen turns, making him a favorite for complex figures of authority like doctors, lawyers, professors and fathers of all moral stripes. He was a particular favorite of writer-director Frank Darabont, who cast him in nearly all of his films, as well as audience members who appreciated his apparently limitless skills, even if his name escaped them.

Born in Buffalo, NY on April 25, 1947, Jeffrey DeMunn was the son of noted regional actors James DeMunn and his wife, Violet. He received his start in acting as a member of The Mountebanks, the oldest, continuously running student theater group in the United States; there, he received valuable training in speech and drama that carried him to Union College, where he planned to study engineering, but eventually returned to the craft he loved best. After moving to England in the early 1970s to train at the Old Vic Theatre, he returned to the United States to work extensively with the National Shakespeare Company and the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. He would associate with numerous stage and screen productions of the playwright's work, and essayed both O'Neill himself in voiceover for the documentary "A Glory of Ghosts" (PBS, 1983), as well as O'Neill's writing teacher, George Pierce Baker, in "Journey Into Genius" (PBS, 1988).

His screen career began on television in the latter half of the decade, where he divided his time between network movies of the week and productions of classical theater works for public television, including O'Neill's "Mourning Becomes Electra" (PBS, 1978). His movie debut arrived with 1980's "Resurrection" as Ellen Burstyn's husband, who died in a car wreck that ends up giving her extraordinary healing powers. From there, he worked steadily in features and on television, playing a richly diverse range of characters. DeMunn was equally skilled at such larger-than-life roles as Harry Houdini in Milos Forman's "Ragtime" (1981), which saw him share the screen with James Cagney; the moody playwright Clifford Odets opposite Jessica Lange in "Frances" (1982); and Western legend Doc Holliday in "I Married Wyatt Earp" (NBC, 1983), as he was playing down-to-earth figures like the husband of rape victim Dianne Wiest in "The Face of Rage" (ABC, 1983) or the father of a boy (Corey Haim) struggling with muscular dystrophy in "A Time to Live" (NBC, 1985). During this period, DeMunn was also busy on Broadway, appearing in "Bent," "Spoils of War" and "K2," which was set on the eponymous Himalayan mountain and required DeMunn to scale a mockup of a sheer rockface three times a night for eight performances a week. DeMunn received a Tony nomination for his physically and emotionally demanding performance.

DeMunn's relationship with Frank Darabont began in 1988 with a remake of "The Blob," for which the writer was one of four scribes credited with its script. DeMunn, who played the town sheriff faced with fighting the amorphous monster, would late appear in all of Darabont's subsequent efforts as director, starting in 1994 with "The Shawshank Redemption," in which he played the tough district attorney who sent Tim Robbins to the titular prison. He later played an experienced prison guard in "The Green Mile" (1999) and the mayor of a small town who welcomed fugitive Hollywood screenwriter Jim Carrey as a long-lost war hero in "The Majestic" (2002). A more substantive role came in "The Mist" (2007), Darabont's third adaptation of a Stephen King story, with DeMunn as a former Marine who aided Thomas Jane's hero in escaping from a supermarket besieged by otherworldly monsters.

In between assignments for Darabont, DeMunn worked steadily in features and television. He earned Emmy and CableACE award nominations as pathetic and prolific Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, who murdered and cannibalized dozens of children and adults. DeMunn also tackled such real-life figures as Robert Oppenheimer, the brain behind the Manhattan Project, in 1995's "Hiroshima" (Hallmark); advertising executive Mel Korn, who was newscaster Jessica Savitch's husband in "Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story" (NBC, 1995); actor George Reeves' manager, Art Weissman, in the feature "Hollywoodland" (2006); and President Abraham Lincoln in the film short "The Persistence of Dreams" (2005), which explored the last moments of his life. Other significant projects during this period included a nervous business exec in "Barbarians at the Gate" (HBO, 1993); a professor studying John Travolta's newfound powers in "Phenomenon" (1996); the pompous town official under siege by an emissary of Satan in the ABC miniseries of Stephen King's "Storm of the Century" (1999); and the kindly Mr. Webb in a PBS production of "Our Town" (2003) that featured Paul Newman as the stage manager.

In 2010, DeMunn joined his first weekly series as Dale Horvath, a no-nonsense survivor of a worldwide zombie apocalypse in Darabont's AMC series, "The Walking Dead." A ratings smash and one of the biggest hits of the 2010-11 series, it completed its first season with huge numbers. As a widower who served as surrogate father figure to sisters Laurie Holden and Emma Bell, Dale provided the voice of reason in the survivors' camp, as well as a hint of melancholy over the loss of civilization and gentility.

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