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John Saxon, Tough-Guy 'Enter the Dragon' Actor, Dead at 83

John Saxon, Tough-Guy 'Enter the Dragon' Actor, Dead at 83
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John Saxon, a beefy actor whose career stretched back to the mid-'50s and included such classics as "Enter the Dragon" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street," died Saturday at 83.

THR reports his wife, Gloria, confirmed he died in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, of pneumonia.

Saxon was born Carmine Orrico on August 5, 1936 (some sources cite 1935), in Brooklyn. As a young man, he worked as a model for magazines like "True Romance" and studied with Stella Adler, landing bit parts in the classic films "It Should Happen to You" (1954) and "A Star Is Born" (1954). He won a contract with Universal Pictures under the guidance of talent agent Henry Willson, who specialized in guiding the careers of other beefcake actors, like Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter.

After working with sex kitten Mamie Van Doren in 1955's "Running Wild" and Esther Williams in "The Unguarded Moment" (1956), he appeared in the rock 'n' roll drama "Rock, Pretty Baby!" (1956). It became a surprise hit, making him a heartthrob and spawning the cash-in sequel "Summer Love" (1958).

John Saxon vintage postcard
Saxon, the teen dream

Uncomfortable with being a teenybopper idol, he eventually landed meatier roles — playing characters of various ethnicities — in "This Happy Feeling" (1958), "Cry Tough" (1959), "The Unforgiven" (1960), "Portrait in Black" (1960), "War Hunt" (1962), "The Cardinal" (1963), and "Joe Kidd" (1972). At his peak, he was working with A-list talent like Lana Turner, Burt Lancaster, Anthony Quinn and Audrey Hepburn.

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In 1966, he worked in both the horror classic "Queen of Blood" and the Marlon Brando drama "The Appaloosa," for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe.

After three seasons as a regular on the TV drama "The Bold Ones: The New Doctors" (1969-1972), he made a lasting impression as a martial artist opposite Bruce Lee in 1973's "Enter the Dragon."

In 2017, Saxon recalled meeting Lee in Hong Kong and being floored that Lee kicked him back into a chair as a demonstration of his skills. The chair collapsed and Saxon stood up. Wanting to reassure his future co-star, Saxon told him not to worry, saying he wasn't hurt. "I know," Lee shrugged, "but that's my best chair."

Saxon continued to work relentlessly, eventually racking up credits in over 200 movies and TV shows.

Later-career hits included "The Electric Horseman" (1979) with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, a recurring role as a dashing oil sheik on TV's "Dynasty" (1982-1984), and his role as Heather Langenkamp's father in the colossal hit "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984) and two of its sequels.

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Saxon in 2012

His last film appears to have been "The Extra" in 2017.

Married three times, he is survived by his wife of 12 years, Gloria; sons Antonio and Lance; grandson Mitchell; great-grandson John; and his sister Dolores.