Family & Companions
For much of the 1970s and early 1980s, rangy character actor Ronny Cox was the actor of choice to play quiet, genial second fiddles who offered compassionate support to the leading men in Hollywood features and television series. He captured audiences' attention with his first feature, "Deliverance" (1972), which showcased his musical skills in the classic "Dueling Banjos" scene. Later roles in films and TV projects like "A Case of Rape" (NBC, 1974), "Bound for Glory" (CBS, 1976) and "The Onion Field" (ABC, 1979) underscored his folksy, good-natured screen persona. A supporting turn as the tough but ultimately sympathetic Lt. Bogomil in the blockbuster "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984) led to a long and prolific period for Cox, which saw him abandon his nice guy roles in favor of hissable villains on the strength of his performances in "RoboCop" (1987) and "Total Recall" (1990). He later shifted his focus to steely patriarchs on television series like "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88) and "Stargate SG-1" (Showtime/Sci Fi Channel, 1997-2007) while touring regularly as a singer-songwriter.
Born Daniel Ronald Cox in Cloudcraft, NM on July 23, 1938, he was one of five children born to carpenter, Bob Cox, and his wife, Lounette. The senior Cox was an amateur musician and imbued his son with a love for guitar and roots music; by the time he was 10 years old, Cox was calling square dances in his hometown and playing at local dances as a teenager. His interest in acting also took off at this time, and he began appearing in local plays while honing his musical talents. Cox married his childhood sweetheart at the age of 22 shortly before graduating from New Mexico University in 1963; the couple later relocated to Washington, D.C., where he became a member of the prestigious Arena Stage while earning a degree from Georgetown University in drama. New York was the next stop, where Cox worked his way up to Broadway as Jesse James in Arthur Kopit's "Indians" (1969) opposite Stacy Keach.
The exposure earned him an agent, who brought him to the attention of John Boorman. The director was looking for unknowns to cast in his adaptation of James Dickey's harrowing psychological adventure "Deliverance," and tapped Cox and fellow newcomer Ned Beatty for his secondary leads. The starring roles were filled out by stars Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, and the resulting picture went on to become one of the most acclaimed movie thrillers of the seventies. Cox's character, Drew Ballinger, was perhaps the most empathetic of the four businessmen whose daytrip down a Southern river turns into a nightmare. His attempt to communicate with an inbred local boy through a guitar duet not only resulted in an indelible movie sequence, but also emphasized the character's inherent goodness, which was sorely missed after his death midway through the picture.
The success of "Deliverance" led to more on-screen work for Cox, mostly in similarly sympathetic roles. Television made up the majority of his early work - he was top-billed in "Apple's Way" (CBS, 1974-75), a family series that strongly resembled creator Earl Hamner Jr.'s other successful show, "The Waltons" (CBS, 1972-1981), and he co-starred as Elizabeth Montgomery's anguished husband in the acclaimed TV drama, "A Case of Rape." Cox also delivered fine performances as a police sergeant on the trail of a killer in "Who is the Black Dahlia?" and as Mr. Webb in a Peabody Award-winning version of "Our Town" (1977) which remained a holiday perennial in subsequent years. Though his film appearances were infrequent, he made the most of them with impressive supporting turns in the Woody Guthrie biopic "Bound for Glory," as Barbara Eden's suitor in "Harper Valley P.T.A." (NBC, 1978), and as the real-life detective who pursued the murderers of two police officers in "The Onion Field."
Cox's film career slowly began to take off in the early 1980s, thanks to performances as an empathetic colonel pitted against military students in "Taps" (1981). Cox earned a rare lead as well as co-writing and co-producing credits with his wife in the indie feature "Courage" (1984), an offbeat thriller about marathon runners who run afoul of survivalists during a desert competition. The picture was largely lost in the flurry of excitement generated by his next film, "Beverly Hills Cop." Originally conceived as a straight action project for Sylvester Stallone, it morphed into a comedy once Eddie Murphy was brought on board to play displaced Detroit detective Axel Foley, who tracked the killers of his partner to posh Beverly Hills. Cox was cast as Bogomil, a flinty police detective who was eventually won over by Foley's brash ways. A major hit at the box office, it was naturally followed by a sequel - the loud and less amusing "Beverly Hills Cop II" (1985), which took Bogomil out of the action after being shot in the first third by a gang of sleek European criminals. Cox wisely opted to stay out of 1994's "Beverly Hills Cop III."
The popularity of the Murphy vehicle put Cox back in the spotlight, and he attempted to capitalize on it via films and television. There were occasional successes, like the spirited wrestling picture "Vision Quest" (1985), but for the most part, Cox seemed stuck in second-place efforts like the family comedy "Spencer" (NBC, 1985), which folded abruptly after star Chad Lowe quit the show over a contract dispute. Frustrated by the lack of options, Cox took a chance and played against type as a cold-blooded businessman in the ultra-violent science fiction thriller "RoboCop." Dismissed by many as a low-budget exploitation film helmed by an unknown European director named Paul Verhoeven, the film turned out to be a runaway success, thanks to its mix of extreme violence and black humor. For his part, Cox showed a whole new side of his talent as the overly-ambitious executive whose dealings with a vicious gang of criminals put him on the wrong side of Peter Weller's cyborg lawman.
Cox followed this performance with another flamboyant baddie for Verhoeven in "Total Recall" (1990), a wildly expensive sci-fi adventure with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a constructor worker who discovers that he has been implanted with false memories. Cox was even more unpleasant as a colony administrator on Mars with decidedly imperialistic leanings. Another hit at the box office, it assured Cox's popularity as a heel with flair. He brought his heavy act to the small screen for the final season of "St. Elsewhere," where his Chief of Services was so loathed by the staff of St. Eligius that he was mooned by a high-ranking member of the medical team. His subsequent efforts in episodic TV were less memorable - "Second Chances" (CBS, 1993-94) vanished after an earthquake destroyed the sets, and "Sweet Justice" (NBC, 1994-95), which pitted liberal lawyer Melissa Gilbert against her conservative father (Cox), disappeared without the help of a natural disaster. Cox also survived one of the most unusual and maligned television series of the 1990s - Steven Bochco's crime drama-cum-musical, "Cop Rock" (ABC, 1990), which cast him as a Western-minded police chief with a penchant for warbling a tune. Actually, all of the characters burst into song, which in the eyes of many critics and viewers, was the cause of its demise. For his part, Cox named the show as his favorite television project, and credited it with reviving his interest in live music, which he began pursuing again with increasing vigor in the 1990s.
Cox remained busy on television and features throughout the nineties and into the new millennium, appearing as the father of the ill-fated JonBenet Ramsey in "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenet and the City of Boulder" (CBS, 2000), and there were turns as flinty government types in the series "The Agency" (CBS, 2001-03) and "StarGate SG-1." In 2006, he appeared as Marcia Cross' lawyer father on "Desperate Housewives" (ABC, 2004-12) and guested on HBO's ill-fated "Tell Me You Love Me" (2007) as a boyfriend of Jane Alexander's sex therapist. But Cox seemed to derive more pleasure from his music career, which had grown slowly over the previous decade into a modest success with up to 80 shows a year at folk festivals and a host of CDs that displayed his knack for singing and songwriting in a country/jazz/blues vein.
Cast (Feature Film)
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Music (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made first stage appearance in production of "King KoKo" in Portales, NM
Made Broadway debut as Jesse James in Arthur Kopit's "Indians", starring Stacy Keach
Made film acting debut in "Deliverance"
Made TV-movie debut in "The Connection"
Starred in series "Apple's Way"
Played Lt. Bogomil in "Beverly Hills Cop"; produced and starred in feature film "Raw Courage"
Was in ensemble cast of ill-fated series "Cop Rock"
Briefly played the head of the CIA in the CBS drama series "The Agency"