William Smith, the actor who carved out a long film career playing muscled-up tough guys, passed away recently on July 5 at the age of 88. For older viewers or hardcore lovers of action films, Smith was a fixture on the silver screen. He amassed nearly 300 film and television acting credits and played in two of the most memorable fight scenes of all time.
Fans of Clint Eastwood will remember William Smith for his role as Jack Wilson, the bare-knuckles brawler, who has a marathon knock-down, drag-out fistfight with Eastwood across Wyoming in the Eastwood classic Any Which Way You Can.
In the cult classic Red Dawn, William Smith played the brutal Soviet colonel. In the very first miniseries ever shown on network television, Rich Man, Poor Man Smith played the eccentric killer Anthony Falconetti. That role was Smith’s favorite. He also played the father of Conan the Barbarian (Arnold Schwartzenegger).
William Smith, the Accomplished Linguist and Athlete
Smith was a champion discus thrower at UCLA. He also studied at Syracuse University, the Sorbonne, and the University of Munich. Smith was fluent in Russian, German, French, and Serbo-Croatian.
A well-known bodybuilder and avid boxing and martial arts practitioner, Smith appeared on the cover of several magazines during the 1960s.
Smith joined the Air Force, where he won the Light-Heavyweight boxing championship. Besides that, he was twice the World 200-lb Arm Wrestling Champion and a black belt in both Kempo Karate and Kung Fu. So, Smith didn’t just portray a badass, he was one.
Because of his language fluency, he was chosen for intelligence work during the Korean War and once considered a career in the CIA. But Hollywood’s call was too strong.
He carved out quite a career in television appearing in countless well-known shows such as Combat!, Perry Mason, Laredo, Mission: Impossible, The Streets of San Francisco, The Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team, Hawaii Five-O, and many others.
In 1976, he landed the role of Anthony Falconetti in Rich Man, Poor Man, and Rich Man Poor Man Book II.
In Conan the Barbarian Smith wrote his own lines early in the film. “No one, no one in this world can you trust… not men, not women, not beasts… this you can trust,” he said pointing to a sword.
In an interview with Tim Tal in 2010, Smith said:
“It was a pleasure to work with Arnold. We enjoyed each other’s sense of humor. The film Conan the Barbarian was the beginning of a big movie career for Arnold, which led to his governorship of California. In Arnold’s day, he had the best physique around. That he proved by his winning the Mr. Olympia contest numerous times. And of course, it was great working with John Milius, who I worked with again on Red Dawn, as well as my friends and fellow cast members, Franco Columbu, Sven-Ole Thorsen, and Ben Davidson.”
“The one thing about Schwarzenegger that I will never forget is that nobody could double him, be his stunt double, because of the shape he was in. He did all his own stunts. He worked 12 hours a day and then he walked two miles. Then he would work out for two hours.”
The Fight Scenes of a Legend
William Smith took part in two of the most memorable fight scenes ever seen on film. In the low-budget, 1970 film Darker Than Amber, he and Rod Taylor threw the fake fighting out the window and fought for real in the film’s climactic scene.
“Fight choreography and staging went out the window when Rod decided to really hit me. And so the fight was on. That was a real fight with real blood and real broken bones. Rod is a skilled fighter, and, at the same time a real scrapper. Now that was a good fight!”
In the fight, Taylor broke three of Smith’s ribs and Smith broke Taylor’s nose. But the two later acted together in The Deadly Trackers in 1973.
Yet, his scrap with Eastwood in Any Which Way you Can will go down in film history. In the movie, Smith and Eastwood played bare-knuckles fighters whom promoters are trying to get in the ring. Although the two meet and become respected friends, they end up having a go at one another that stretches across half of Jackson, Wyoming.
Smith said of this fight scene, “The fight in Any Which Way You Can with Clint Eastwood, was the longest two-man fight scene on screen, at the time. It was very well choreographed. It was a very mobile fight in the fact that it moved from one area to the next. Clint was great to work with. He was quite an accomplished on-screen fighter.”
A Fighter and a Poet
William Smith also published a book of poetry in 2009, The Poetic Works of William Smith. In one of the poems, The Reaper, he wrote:
“You’ve done some bad and you’ve done some good
You wouldn’t change things even if you could
‘Cause through the years, you’ve run a good race
The Reaper chased and couldn’t keep your pace
So toast those that live and those that die
And while you can, spit in the Reaper’s eye.”
Willaim Smith was inducted into the Muscle Beach Venice Bodybuilding Hall of Fame and was an honorary member of the Motion Pictures Stuntmen Association.
RIP Mr. Smith, one of the most iconic badasses.