Anthony James, an actor best-known for his work in the Oscar-winning films “In The Heat of the Night” and “Unforgiven,” died on May 26 of cancer in Massachusetts. He was 77.

Born Jimmy Anthony, he discovered there was already an actor with that name and created his stage persona of Anthony James, according to his obituary. James had a career in the arts that spanned five decades, focusing on acting in his early years and later shifting to writing and painting.

James was born in Myrtle Beach, S.C. on July 22, 1942 to two Greek immigrants, George and Marika. When James was 18, he and his mother moved to Los Angeles so that he could pursue acting. Marika cleaned houses and James cleaned bathrooms in order to make ends meet and pay for acting classes.

James broke into the industry as Ralph, a hateful diner employee in 1967’s “In The Heat of the Night,” which went on to win best picture at the 1968 Academy Awards. Due to his appearance, which his IMDb biography describes as “tall and lanky, with a rough, pockmarked face, a lean, stringy build, greasy dark hair and an extremely edgy, intense screen presence,” James was often cast in villainous roles.

He played the bad guy in films throughout the 1970s such as “Vanishing Point,” “The Culpepper Cattle Co.,” “High Plains Drifter,” “The Teacher,” “Burnt Offerings” and “Ravagers.” He also appeared on many television shows, including “Hawaii Five-0” in 1968, “S.W.A.T” in 1975, “Charlie’s Angels” in 1976, “The A-Team” in 1983, as well as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Married… with Children” in 1987.

His last film, Clint Eastwood’s 1992 western “Unforgiven” in which he played brothel owner Skinny Dubois, won best picture just like his first. James then retired from acting and began to focus more on writing and art. In 1994, he published a book of poems and paintings, “Language of the Heart,” and exhibited his paintings in galleries across New York, Boston and Miami. His memoir, “Acting My Face,” was published in 2014.

Donations may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.