Warren Oates was born on July 5, 1928 in Depoy, Kentucky. In college he became interested in the theatre and in 1954 headed for New York to make his mark as an actor. However, his first real job in television was testing contest gags on the game show "Beat the Clock" (1950). He did numerous menial jobs while auditioning, including serving as the hat-check man at the nightclub "21".
By 1957 he had begun appearing in live dramas such as "Studio One in Hollywood" (1948), but Oates' rural drawl seemed more fitted for the Westerns that were proliferating on the big screen at the time, so he moved to Hollywood and immediately started getting steady work as an increasingly prominent supporting player, often as either craven or vicious types. He landed the role of one of the Hammond brothers in the Sam Peckinpah masterpiece “Ride the High Country” (1962). Peckinpah used Oates repeatedly, and Oates, in large part due to the prominence given him by Peckinpah, became one of those rare character actors whose name and face is as familiar as those of many leading stars. He began to play roles which, while still character parts, were also leads, particularly in cult hits like “Two-Lane Blacktop” (1971) and “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia” (1974).
Oates appeared in two Euro-westerns: “Return of the Seven” (1966) and “China 9, Liberty 37” (1978).
Although never destined to be a traditional leading man, Oates remained one of Hollywood's most valued and in-demand character players up until his sudden death from a heart attack on April 3, 1982 at the age of 53. His final two films, “Tough Enough” (1983) and “Blue Thunder” (1983), were released over one year after his death and were dedicated to his memory.
Today we remember Warren Oates on what would have been his 85th birthday.
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