Character actor Tom Towles, known for his roles in various horror movies and his many guest appearances on television shows, died yesterday at age 65 after having suffered a stroke four days earlier.
Tom Towles was born in Chicago on March 20 1950. He served a stint in the United States Marines before taking up acting. He attended Columbia College, Chicago where he majored in theatre. In 1973 he appeared on Broadway in a short lived play Warp and in 1975 he appeared in a bit part in the movie Dog Day Afternoon. Afterwards he returned to Chicago where he became a member of the Organic Theatre Company. He also worked with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago as well.
It was in 1984 that Mr. Towles made his television debut in an episode of the sitcom E/R (not to be confused with the later drama with a similar name). He received his first credited role in the film Pink Nights the following year, playing Ralph the Lounge Lizard. In 1986 he appeared in one of his most famous parts, that of Otis, the sidekick of the title character in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Over the next several years Tom Towles guest starred on such shows as Jack and Mike, High Mountain Rangers, and Sable. He appeared in the film Men Don't Leave (1990) and the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead.
In the Nineties Tom Towles appeared in such films as The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), The Borrower (1991), Fortress (1992), Mad Dog and Glory (1993), Trinity (1995), Normal Life (1996), The Rock (1996), Gridlock'd (1997), Warriors of Virtue (1997), and More Dogs Than Bones (2000). On television he had a recurring role as Inspector Anthony Lastarza on NYPD Blue. He guest starred on such shows as Shannon's Deal, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Seinfeld, L.A. Law, VR.5, Pacific Blue, ER, 3rd Rock from the Sun, Star Trek: Voyager, and The Drew Carey Show.
In the Naughts Tom Towles played the regular role of BRB on the short lived show Push, Nevada. He guest starred on such shows as Firefly, Crossing Jordan, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He appeared in such films as Groom Lake (2002), House of 1000 Corpses (2003), The Devil's Rejects (2005), Miami Vice (2006), Grindhouse (2007), Home Sick (2007), Rob Zombie's Halloween (2007), and Blood on the Highway (2008).
Tom Towles was best known for playing a number of rough-and-tumble and outright disreputable characters throughout his career. He was closely associated with the horror genre, although he played many roles outside the genre was well. He was a serial killer's sidekick in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, the crooked Inspector Lastarza on NYPD Blue, and a drug dealer in the film version of Miami Vice. Mr. Towles was a very talented actor, so that he did play other, very different roles in his career. In Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses he was actually one of the good guys for a change, playing deputy George Wydell. In a Star Trek: Voyager episode he played a prominent, alien astrophysicist.
For those who are wondering, Tom Towles was a distant relation (nearly everyone named "Towles" is related in some way, shape, or form). Unfortunately, I did not know him personally, although I was certainly proud to have such a talented actor as a relation, however distant. And from those who did know him, it appears that in addition to being talented he was a very nice man as well. On Facebook, Rob Zombie said, "He was such a great guy and I am so grateful that we got to work together several times. He will be really missed." A statement on the TnT Talent Management website, which represented him, said, "He will always be remembered for his contagious smile and outstanding love for his family, friends and fans. Few knew the soft-hearted man that lived inside that tough exterior." Tom Towles was not just a talented actor, then, but a man who was loved by his family, friends, and fans.