Film and TV actor Ned Beatty, who was Oscar nominated for his supporting role in “Network” and appeared in a number of the most significant American films of the 1970s, has died. He was 83.
Beatty’s management confirmed his death to Variety, adding that he died from natural causes on Sunday morning surrounded by his loved ones at his home in Los Angeles.
Beatty appeared in four films that were nominated for the Oscar best picture award in the 1970s: “Deliverance” (1972), “Nashville” (1975), “All the President’s Men” (1976) and “Network” (1976). In addition, he voiced a character, Lotso, in 2010’s “Toy Story 3,” which was also nominated.
The actor was equally at home in the drama of “All the President’s Men,” in which he played a reporter who uncovers part of the conspiracy, and the buffoonery of his role in 1977’s “Superman,” in which he played Lex Luthor’s sidekick Otis.
Beatty was lucky enough to come to the attention of both the public and the critics with his first film role, as the genial vacationing hunter Bobby who is the victim of a sadistic sexual assault in John Boorman’s landmark 1972 drama “Deliverance.”
Beatty gave many excellent supporting performances as unsympathetic characters. In Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” for example, Beatty portrayed a politically connected lawyer who is impatient with his deaf children, making no effort to communicate with them.
In “Network,” Beatty had a small but memorable role as the head of the conglomerate that owns the network, described by the New York Times as “a folksy messiah, beautifully played by Ned Beatty, [who] is the mouthpiece for some of [Paddy] Chayefsky’s bluntest thoughts about the current state of the wealth of nations.” He utters the famous line “It’s because you’re on television, dummy.”
By the mid-1970s, Beatty was also a steady presence in TV through guest shots in “Gunsmoke,” “The Rockford Files,” “Hawaii 5-0,” “Hunter,” “Delvecchio,” and in TV movies such as 1980’s “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones” in which Beatty played Rep. Leo Ryan, the San Francisco congressional rep who was gunned down in 1978.
One highlight of Beatty’s film work in the 1980s was the New Orleans-set Dennis Quaid vehicle “The Big Easy,” in which Beatty played, in the words of Roger Ebert, “the police chief who sincerely wants to do the right thing and sincerely cannot” in what amounted to “his finest performance in years.”
Another ’80s highlight was “Hear My Song,” in which Beatty played the central character, an Irish tenor on the lam from the tax man and actually absent for most of the movie. Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers declared that “his finely shaded, deeply romantic performance as Locke is a unique and unexpected pleasure.”
Earlier, in 1975, he turned in a powerful guest performance on “MASH” as Col. Hollister, the puritanical Army chief of chaplains who arrives at the 4077th to evaluate Father Mulcahy.
Beatty made two attempts at starring in a series of his own, with the brief 1977 sitcom “Szysznyk” and 1993’s even briefer “The Boys,” in which he played the father of Christopher Meloni’s character. He recurred on “Roseanne” in the early ’90s as the huckster father of John Goodman’s character. He was also a regular panelist on “The New Hollywood Squares” from 1987 to 1988.
More recently, Beatty played a senile judge who had become the puppet of his law clerk in a 2006 episode of “Law and Order,” and on a 2007 episode of “CSI” he played a memorably serene but creepy dentist who is unmasked as a serial killer.
Ned Thomas Beatty was born in Louisville, Ky. At age 10, he began singing with professional gospel quartets. He spent the early years of his acting career at the Barter Theater in Abingdon, Va., followed by the Erie (Penn.) Playhouse, Houston’s Playhouse Theater and Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage Company. He appeared on Broadway in the original 1968 production of “The Great White Hope” that starred James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander, and returned to the Main Stem in 2003 to star as Big Daddy in a revival of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” that also starred Ashley Judd and Jason Patric.
Of Beatty’s performance as Big Daddy, the New York Times declared, “From the moment Mr. Beatty first shows up in the play’s second act, he brings with him the invigorating breeze of passionate, scrupulously detailed acting. As long as he is allowed to dominate the stage, Anthony Page’s production exhales the galvanizing honesty that is the elusive holy grail for Big Daddy.”
At the Music Center in Los Angeles he starred in a revival of the musical “Showboat” in 1996.
Though he did not sing for himself in the film “Hear My Song,” he released an album of Christian music, “In the Beginning Was the Word,” in 2006.
Beatty was married four times, the first time to Walta Abbott, the second to actress Belinda Beatty, and the third to Dorothy “Tinker” Lindsey.
He is survived by fourth wife Sandra Johnson; four children from his marriage to Abbott; two children from his marriage to Beatty; and two children from his marriage to Lindsey.