Henry Silva, an actor with a memorable look who appeared in so many movies as to have seemed perennially on cinema screens, has died of natural causes Wednesday at the Motion Picture Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California, his son Scott confirmed. He was 95.
In a 1985 article by Knight-Ridder journalist Diane Haithman titled Henry Silva: The Actor You Love to Hate, she describe him like this:
“His face looms on screen. A face with sharp, high cheekbones and a blunt, tiny nose, a face that looks like it was cut out of steel and always is behind a gun. And eyes that see only the next victim. Cold eyes. The eyes of a psychopath. He doesn’t have to say a thing before you know you hate him. … Silva has made a lifelong career with that face (which, by the way, looks fatherly off-camera).”
His filmography is legendarily long, and contains many highlights, from Ocean’s 11 (1960), to Johnny Cool (1963). From Sharky’s Machine (1981), to Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999).
One of Silva’s most memorable roles came in the John Frankenheimer classic The Manchurian Candidate (1962), in which he played Chunjin, the Korean houseboy for Laurence Harvey’s Raymond Shaw. This included a famous martial arts fight with Frank Sinatra’s character.
He starred as a comedy gangster in Cannonball Run II (1984) opposite many of his former Rat Pack buddies including Sinatra. He was CIA agent Kurt Zagon in Steven Seagal’s debut Above the Law (1988), hitman Influence in Dick Tracy (1990), and even the voice of the Bane in Batman: The Animated Series (1994). It seems like he was always there, “that guy” from many of our favorite movies when we were growing up.
For a certain kind of Outposter there are probably three roles that Silva played that really stick in our minds. The first is that of Kane, villainous henchman and second in command to the smoking hot, but deliciously evil Princess Ardala in Buck Rogers In The 25th Century on television.
The second is the unspeakably arrogant big game hunter Colonel Brock in the classic creature B-feature Alligator from 1980.
Finally, and perhaps greatest of all, was the villain role in Megaforce. Silva played Duke Guerera, leader of the aggressive Gamibian forces. His portrayal is a hilariously over-the-top, borderline camp performance. It is as if he was in on the joke and nobody else was in a movie that, 40 years later, still manages to completely confuse people as to whether it is meant to be a parody or not.
Silva’s final screen appearance was a cameo in the Ocean’s Eleven remake in 2001.
Silva was twice married in the 1950s; his third marriage, to Ruth Earl, lasted from 1966 until their divorce in 1987. He is survived by two sons, Michael and Scott.
Rest in peace, Mr Silva.