John Mahon, an actor, director and writer who played a police chief in 1997’s L.A. Confidential and, as a language lab director in one of the creepiest moments of The Exorcist revealed that recorded demon gibberish was in fact backwards English, died of natural causes at his Los Angeles home on May 3. He was 82.
The death was announced by his son Joseph Mahon.
Having appeared in a short-lived 1971 Off Broadway production of playwright/actor Jason Miller’s Nobody Hears A Broken Drum, Mahon landed a small but pivotal role in his friend Miller’s breakthrough film The Exorcist. In the movie, Miller’s Father Karas, who has tape-recorded the possessed girl speaking what sounds like random nonsense syllables, is stunned when Mahon’s lab director recognized the sounds as backwards English.
Later, in the late 1970s, Mahon directed actor Broderick Crawford That Championship Season. He also directed a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with former Bonanza star Pernell Roberts.
Mahon was most familiar, though, for his character roles in films including Armageddon, L.A. Confidential (he played a police chief), Zodiac (a police captain), and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (NATO Colonel). His many TV credits include Star Trek: Enterprise, The X-Files, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Frasier, Angel and Knotts Landing, among many others.
On Broadway, Mahon played various characters in a 1979 production of King Richard III starring Al Pacino. He also starred opposite Tammy Grimes in a touring production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
In a 2014 memoir A Life of Make Believe: From Paralysis to Hollywood, Mahon recounted a childhood bout of poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis, which left him paralyzed for nine months. He never recovered full use of his left arm, and would become a trusted mentor to fellow actors with disabilities.
In addition to his son Joseph, Mahon is survived by daughter Katharine.