Anthony James, ‘In the Heat of the Night’ and ‘Unforgiven’ Actor, Dies at 77

The lanky, onscreen bad guy died of cancer

Anthony James In the Heat of the Night
Photo credit: Getty Images

Anthony James, the lanky actor who frequently appeared as bad guys in films such as “In the Heat of the Night” and “Unforgiven,” has died at 77. James died of cancer on May 26, according to an obituary announcement from a funeral home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

James’ first film role was in the Best Picture winner from 1967 “In the Heat of the Night,” where he played Ralph, a mischievous and racist diner clerk alongside Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier. His final film role was then in another Best Picture winner, playing Skinny Dubois in Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Western “Unforgiven.”

His villainous roles were so distinctive that Hollywood took to calling similarly creepy and skinny roles as needing an “Anthony James type.” He also starred in films such as “High Plains Drifter,” “The Naked Gun 2 1/2” and “Vanishing Point.”

Among his many TV credits, James also appeared in “Gunsmoke,” “Police Story,” “The A-Team,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “The A-Team,” “Knight Rider” and “Married…with Children.”

James was born Jimmy Anthony but took the stage name Anthony James because another actor was already using that name. He was born in segregated Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and played tight end for his high school football team before moving out to Hollywood after graduating high school.

After retiring from acting, he relocated to New England and took up painting, selling over a hundred of his works in galleries in Boston, New York, Santa Fe, San Francisco and Japan. In 2014, The University Press of Mississippi published his memoir, “Acting My Face.”