David Huddleston, a prolific character actor with dozens of credits, but was best known for playing the title role in the 1998 Coen Brothers comedy The Big Lebowski, has died in New Mexico following a battle with kidney and liver disease. He was 85.
A native of Virginia, Huddleston was born in 1930 in Vinton, and raised in Villamont. As a young man he was an aircraft mechanic in the United States Air Force before attending American Academy of Dramatic Arts on the G.I. Bill. His acting career began in earnest in the 1960s, with Huddleston appearing in numerous television and film roles. On television, his long list of credits includes Adam-12, Gunsmoke, Bewitched, Bonanza, The Waltons, Kung Fu, Hawaii Five-O, Walker, Texas Ranger, Charlie’s Angels, Sanford and Son, The Practice, and The Rockford Files. Other notable appearances include Star Trek: The Next Generation, a recurring role as Kevin Arnold’s grandfather on The Wonder Years, Jericho, and 2010’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: It’s a Very Sunny Christmas, among many others.
Huddleston only held the lead in one film, holding the title role in 1985’s Santa Claus: The Movie, which also starred Dudley Moore and John Lithgow. He usually played supporting roles, including in a slew of classics like Brian’s Song, The World’s Greatest Lover, Blazing Saddles, Rio Lobo, Capricorn One, and Frantic, along with notorious flops like Joe’s Apartment, and oddities like the Muhammad Ali biopic The Greatest.
Huddleston also played Benjamin Franklin on Broadway in the 1997 production of 1776.
His greatest fame would come thanks to 1998’s The Big Lebowski, a half-serious neo-noir set during the first Gulf War in which Huddleston appeared in several memorable scenes as the title character and main villain. Huddleston’s “The Big” Lebowski is a blustering, deluded villain, an imperious leech living an affluent pretense funded by his dead wife’s fortune who attempts to grift money from his family’s charity via a convoluted fake kidnapping plot. Lebowski was a reunion of sorts for Huddleston and star Jeff Bridges – the pair appeared together in the 1972 deconstructionist western Bad Company, in which Huddleston played the outlaw Big Joe.
A modest success upon release, The Big Lebowski went on to become one of the most beloved cult films of all time and has since spawned an annual, multi-city festival.
He’s survived by his wife, Sarah Koeppe, to whom he was married 32 years.