Film, television and stage actor James Harrison Coburn, Jr. was born on August 31, 1928, in Laurel, Nebraska. He studied acting at Los Angeles City College and the University of Southern California before moving to New York City, where he became a student at the prestigious Stella Adler Theatre. Returning to California, he made his critically acclaimed acting debut at La Jolla Playhouse in Billy Budd, a stage adaptation of the Herman Melville classic. After some television work, including appearances on TV’s popular western ‘Bonanza’, Coburn made his film debut in 1959 in “Face of a Fugitive”, a western directed by Paul Wendkos. Over the next few years, he was cast in a variety of supporting rolls, appearing in “The Magnificent Seven” (1960), “The Great Escape” (1963) and “The Americanization of Emily” (1964), among others.
In 1966, he won his first major starring role in the box-office hit “Our Man Flint”. His performance as "Derek Flint," a swinging 1960s spy, won Coburn a hit sequel, “In Like Flint” (1967), and later inspired Mike Myers's comedic character in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” (1997). Coburn used his newfound fame to start up his Won Production Company, which in 1967 produced “The President's Analyst”, a political satire. Admired by director Sam Peckinpah, who worked with him in “Major Dundee” (1965) and “The Cross of Iron” (1977), Coburn was given the opportunity to co-direct Peckinpah's 1978 film, “Convoy”. During this era he appeared in two Euro-westerns: “Duck You Sucker” (1971) as Sean Mallory and “Massacre at Fort Holman” (1972) as Colonel Pembroke.
Because of his severe rheumatoid arthritis, Coburn appeared in very few films during the 1980s. His voice was heard though on many commercials and through holistic medicine and rehabilitation he was able to overcome the disease enough to continue his acting career in the 1990s.
In recent years, he appeared opposite Mel Gibson in “Maverick” (1994) and “Payback” (1999), alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Eraser” (1996), and with Eddie Murphy in the hit “The Nutty Professor”. In 1998, after appearing in more than eighty films, Coburn gave his most acclaimed performance to date as "Glen Whitehouse," an abusive, alcoholic father in Paul Shrader's “Affliction” (1998), co-starring Nick Nolte and Sissy Spacek. In March 1999, he took home an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Affliction”.
On November 18, 2002 while listening to music with his wife, actress Paula O’Hara he died of a heart attack. "He was a class act." Today we remember James Coburn on what would have been his 85th birthday.