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.