A former attorney and oil producer millionaire, character actor G.D. Spradlin broke into show business in his 40s with a string of TV guest spots on "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." (CBS, 1964-69) and "Dragnet 1967" (NBC, 1967-1970). Often cast as authority and military figures, the commanding Spradlin broke through as the corrupt, bigoted U.S Senator who winds up blackmailed into loyalty to the Corleones in "The Godfather: Part II" (1974). He scored in two memorable sports-related roles in "One on One" (1977) and "North Dallas Forty" (1979), before essaying the crucial supporting role of General Corman in "Apocalypse Now" (1979). After a searing turn as a relentless military academy commandant in "The Lords of Discipline" (1983), Spradlin played a pair of presidents "Robert Kennedy & His Times" (CBS, 1985) and "Houston: The Legend of Texas" (CBS, 1986). Settling into a series of smaller roles, he appeared in the black comedy "The War of the Roses" (1989), the biopic "Ed Wood" (1994) and the real-time thriller "Nick of Time" (1995). Spradlin wrapped his career with "Riders of the Purple Sage" (TNT, 1996), "The Long Kiss Goodnight" (1996) and the Watergate comedy "Dick" (1999). Although he never became a household name, Spradlin embodied the American Dream and left behind an impressive body of character acting work.
Born Aug. 31, 1920 in Pauls Valley, OK, Gervase Duan Spradlin was the son of two teachers and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Oklahoma. After serving in the Army Air Forces in China during World War II, he returned to Oklahoma to earn a law degree and became an attorney for Phillips Petroleum Co., eventually heading their legal department in Venezuela. When he moved back to the U.S. for good, Spradlin became an independent oil producer, achieving such massive multimillionaire success that he was able to retire in 1960. Determined to find a new career path that thrilled him, he directed John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in Oklahoma that same year. In an unexpected twist of fate, he accompanied his daughter to an audition she had for a local 1963 production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and ended up landing a role himself. Spradlin continued to cut his theatrical teeth in a series of local productions, but also kept a hand in other fields, earning a master's degree in Latin American studies from the University of Miami in 1965 and launching an successful bid to become mayor of Oklahoma City.
In his 40s, Spadlin determined to follow his passion and moved his family to Los Angeles, where overcame the odds and broke into the show business with a string of TV guest spots, including roles on "The Iron Horse" (ABC, 1966-68), "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." (CBS, 1964-69) and "Pistols 'n' Petticoats" (CBS, 1966-67). Often cast as all-American agents of authority, the authoritative Spradlin worked steadily as a character actor, notching an impressive string of TV credits, including recurring on "Dragnet 1967" (NBC, 1967-1970) in a number of roles. The character actor made the leap to film with small roles in projects like the Charlton Heston Western "Will Penny" (1968) and the biker B-movie "Hells Angels '69" (1969). His professional momentum increased in the subsequent decade, with an uncredited appearance as a communications officer in "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970) and a supporting role in the Lee Marvin-Jack Palance Western "Monte Walsh" (1970). Spradlin's breakthrough role soon came when he played the corrupt, anti-Italian U.S. senator, Pat Geary, who is blackmailed into falling in line with the Corleone family in Francis Ford Coppola's Oscar-winning classic "The Godfather: Part II" (1974).
Spradlin recurred as another senator on the miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man - Book II" (ABC, 1976-77), before returning to the big screen to play Robby Benson's relentlessly driving basketball coach in "One on One" (1977). Following a turn as head pro football coach B.A. Strother in "North Dallas Forty" (1979), Spradlin reunited with Coppola to essay another pivotal character in the director's epic Vietnam allegory, "Apocalypse Now" (1979), in which he portrayed General Corman, an Army officer who assigns Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen) to journey into hostile territory and execute the mad Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando). The actor went on to appear alongside Loni Anderson and Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Jayne Mansfield Story" (CBS, 1980) and to play Gen. Bentley Durrell, the unyielding military academy commandant in the Pat Conroy literary adaptation "The Lords of Discipline" (1983). He next played U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in the acclaimed miniseries "Robert Kennedy & His Times" (CBS, 1985) and U.S. President Andrew Jackson in the Sam Elliott-starring "Houston: The Legend of Texas" (CBS, 1986).
Spradlin also booked supporting roles in the miniseries "War and Remembrance" (ABC, 1988), the black comedy "The War of the Roses" (1989), starring Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, and Tim Burton black-and-white biopic "Ed Wood" (1994), which starred Johnny Depp as the titular angora-loving director. He reunited with Depp in the real-time thriller "Nick of Time" (1995) to play a mysterious right-wing lobbyist who masterminds an assassination plot. Meanwhile, the actor played tribute to the many Westerns in which he had appeared, as well as his own Oklahoma roots, with a memorable turn as Pastor Dyer in the Zane Grey adaptation "Riders of the Purple Sage" (TNT, 1996). After again playing the U.S. president in the Geena Davis amnesiac assassin thriller "The Long Kiss Goodnight" (1996), Spadlin was famed newspaper editor Ben Bradlee in the historical parody "Dick" (1999). Following that role, Spradlin retired from acting and maintained a low profile for the remainder of his life. On July 24, 2011, Spradlin passed away from natural causes on his cattle ranch in San Luis Obispo, CA. He was 90 years old and left behind a legacy of success in business, law and the entertainment industry that underscored his reputation as a true Renaissance man.
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Joined Oklahoma Repertory Theater
Made his film debut in "Will Penny"
Made TV debut in the ABC movie, "Dial Hot Line"
Portrayed corrupt Nevada Sen. Pat Geary in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather Part II"
Appeared in the ABC mini-series, "Rich Man, Poor Man: Book II"
Played a college basketball coach in "One on One"
Cast as a pro football coach in the film, "North Dallas Forty"
Played the Army general who sent Martin Sheen's Capt. Willard to find and kill Marlon Brando's Col. Kurtz in Coppola's "Apocalypse Now"
Co-starred in the short-lived military series, "Call to Glory"
Portrayed President Johnson in the 1985 CBS mini-series, "Robert Kennedy & His Times"
Cast as President Jackson in the CBS TV movie, "Houston: The Legend of Texas"
Played an admiral in the ABC mini-series "War and Remembrance"
Had a small role as a divorce lawyer in "War of the Roses," starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner
Had a small role in Tim Burton's "Ed Wood"
Final film role, played Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in "Dick"