For most movie fans of a certain generation, David Huddleston is known for one role in particular: That of “the other Jeffrey Lebowski,” the wheelchair-using so-called millionaire bigwig who clashes with the protagonist, also named Jeff Lebowski, in Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski. When the elder Lebowski’s young trophy wife, Bunny (Tara Reid) is “kidnapped,” it sets the movie’s crazy, Raymond Chandler-esque plot in motion.
But beyond Lebowski, Huddleston actually enjoyed a long, multifaceted career as a character actor that spanned six decades and included 60 movies and over 140 acting credits, on everything from Santa Claus: The Movie to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in addition to frequent TV guest work across multiple eras and even an accomplished career as a theater actor.
We’re sorry to report that David Huddleston passed away this week at the age of 85. According to THR, citing the actor’s family, Huddleston succumbed to heart and kidney disease in Santa Fe, N.M.
Huddleston was born in 1930 in Virginia. After serving in the Air Force and attending school, Huddleston pursued acting beginning in 1960. He had roles on various popular TV series in the ‘60s and ‘70s, including Bewitched, Bonanza, The Waltons, Gunsmoke, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Sanford and Son and Kung Fu. Also in that period, Huddleston took some high-profile movie roles, including the 1972 Western Bad Company, Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy classic Blazing Saddles and 1985’s Santa Claus: The Movie, in which he played the jolly title role. The actor also had an accomplished stage career, including appearances on Broadway in 1776 – in which he played Benjamin Franklin – and Death of a Salesman.
But it was The Big Lebowski that was the highest-profile part that Huddleston played in the later part of his career. Venal old men who sit behind desks and intimidate the hero are a staple throughout the Coens’ work, and the elder Jeffrey Lebowski was likely the most memorable of all.
The actor had high-profile TV roles later on as well, playing Governor Gatling’s father on Benson, Kevin’s grandfather on The Wonder Years, a Republican senator on The West Wing and roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation (in which he played a holographic train conductor on the episode “Emergence”), Gilmore Girls and on the 2009 It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Christmas special. His final part was in the 2014 anthology film Locker 13.
David Huddleston is survived by his wife, plus a son and daughter-in-law.
R.I.P. David William Huddleston: September 17, 1930 – August 2, 2016