Brion James

Brion Howard James (February 20, 1945 – August 7, 1999) was an American character actor. Perhaps best known for his portrayal of Leon Kowalski in Blade Runner, James portrayed a variety of colorful roles in popular films such as Southern Comfort, 48 Hrs., Another 48 Hrs., Silverado, Tango & Cash, Red Heat, The Player, and The Fifth Element.

Brion James
Brion Howard James

(1945-02-20)February 20, 1945
DiedAugust 7, 1999(1999-08-07) (aged 54)
Malibu, California, U.S.
Years active1973–1999
Height6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Maxine James
(m. 1965; div. 1996)
Military career
Service/branchArmy National Guard

James' commanding screen presence and formidable physique at 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) tall usually resulted in his casting as a heavy, appearing more frequently in lower-budget horror and action films and TV shows throughout the 1980s and 1990s. James appeared in more than 100 films before he died of a heart attack at the age of 54.

Early life and education

James was born in Redlands, California, the son of Ida Mae (née Buckelew) and Jimmy James.[1][2] He spent his early years in Beaumont, California, where his parents owned and operated a movie theater; James had said, "My story is like Cinema Paradiso. Every night in my life since I was 2 years old... I ran movies".[3] After graduating from high school in 1962, James attended San Diego State University as a Theater Arts major. Migrating to New York, James immersed himself in the theatre scene, taking on bit roles here and there. He also served in the United States Army National Guard.


In 1975, James landed a small role in the made-for-television film, The Kansas City Massacre, playing John Dillinger gang member Homer Van Meter. Higher profile roles followed in 1976, with his casting in Nickelodeon and Harry and Walter Go to New York. James also appeared in the acclaimed television miniseries Roots and popular 1970s shows such as Gunsmoke, The Incredible Hulk, Mork and Mindy, Chico and the Man, and CHiPs.

James' career took a sudden upturn in the early 1980s with several sharply defined character roles in films such as Southern Comfort and 48 Hrs. (which were both directed by Walter Hill), but it was his performance as Leon Kowalski in the 1982 film Blade Runner that gave him his greatest, most lasting fame. Even though his memorable performance threatened to typecast the intense yet versatile actor as a movie villain for the remainder of the decade, James continued to pile up a prolific acting resume, playing significant roles in Enemy Mine, Flesh + Blood, A Breed Apart, Silverado, Armed and Dangerous, Red Heat, Steel Dawn, Red Scorpion, Tango & Cash and Showdown (portraying an obnoxious high-school vice-principal, Kowalski, whose name was probably an inside joke inspired by Blade Runner). James continued his strong work on the small screen as well, with guest spots in Benson, Quincy, M.E., The A-Team, Little House on the Prairie, The Dukes of Hazzard, Matlock, Miami Vice, Hunter, along with the Hunter take off Sledge Hammer!, and Dynasty. In the 1990s, he appeared in Highlander: The Series, and as Sheriff Bowman in the Millennium season 2 episode "Luminary". He lent his voice to the character of Parasite in Superman: The Animated Series. In 1982, he was in the made-for-TV-movie Hear No Evil as Billy Boy Burns.[4][5][6]

James starred in the low-budget 1989 supernatural horror film The Horror Show (aka House III), where he played serial killer "Meat Cleaver Max" Jenke. This was his all-time favorite role. The character was initially expected to spin off into other films. James was relieved that he was not asked to reprise the role, as he said he did not want to make a career out of something so schlocky..

In 1994, he played a grouchy sponsor who became a victim of the gruesome goings-on during a 1939 radio show in the film Radioland Murders. Another of his memorable roles came near the end of his career, as the amiable General Munro in The Fifth Element (1997). Two months before his death, James reprised his role as Parasite in Superman 64, a video game based on the critically acclaimed Superman: The Animated Series.

Concerning his talent for playing villains in films, he stated in an interview in Fangoria magazine, "I consider myself a classical character actor like Lon Chaney, Wallace Beery, Charles Laughton. I always like to play bad guys. I'm real good at psychotic behavior."[7]


James died in 1999 from a heart attack in Malibu, California. He appeared in five feature films that were released posthumously. The last of these was Phoenix Point (2005).

The motion picture The King Is Alive (2000) was dedicated to him.



1975Hard TimesUncredited
1976Harry and Walter Go to New YorkHayseed
1976Treasure of MatecumbeRoustabout
1976Bound for GloryPick-Up Truck Driver at Border
1977Blue SunshineTony
1978Corvette SummerJeff (Wayne's Carwash Henchman)
1978KISS Meets the Phantom of the ParkPark Security Guard
1980Wholly Moses!Guard at Banquet
1980The Jazz SingerMan in Bar
1981The Postman Always Rings TwiceCrapshooter
1981Southern ComfortTrapper
1981Soggy Bottom, U.S.A.Defalice
1982Blade RunnerLeon Kowalski
198248 Hrs.Ben Kehoe
1982The Ballad of Gregorio CortezCaptain Rogers
1984A Breed ApartPeyton
1985CrimewaveArthur Coddish
1985Flesh & BloodKarsthans
1985Enemy MineStubbs
1986Armed and DangerousAnthony Lazarus
1987Steel DawnTark
1987Cherry 2000Stacy
1988Dead Man WalkingDecker
1988D.O.A.Detective Ulmer
1988The Wrong GuysGlen Grunski
1988Red HeatStreak
1988Death Street U.S.A. (aka: Nightmare at Noon)The Albino
1988Red ScorpionSgt. Krasnov
1989The Horror ShowMax Jenke
1989MutatorDavid Allen
1989Circles in a ForestMr. Patterson
1989Tango & CashRequin
1990Enid Is SleepingTrucker
1990Street AsylumReverend Mony
1990Another 48 Hrs.Ben Kehoe
1991MomNestor Duvalier
1991Ultimate DesiresWolfgang Friedman
1992The PlayerJoel Levison
1992WishmanStaten Jack Rose
1992Frogtown IIProf. Tanzer
1993Time RunnerNeila
1993Brainsmasher...A Love StoryBrownVideo
1993Striking DistanceDet. Eddie Eiler
1993ShowdownVice Principal Kowalski
1993The DarkPaul Buckner
1994Cabin BoyBig Teddy
1994Future ShockJack Porter
1994F.T.W.Sheriff Rudy Morgan
1994Savage LandCyrus
1994Art Deco DetectiveJim Wexler
1994Radioland MurdersBernie King
1994The Soft KillBen McCarthy
1994Hong Kong 97Simon Alexander
1995SpitfireTough guyUncredited
1995The Nature of the BeastSheriff Gordon
1995Steel FrontierGeneral J.W. Quantrell
1995Cyberjack (aka: Virtual Assasin)Nassim
1995Indecent Behavior IIIMr. CowedUncredited
1996Precious FindSam Horton
1996American StraysOris
1996Evil ObsessionStavinski
1996Marco Polo: Haperek Ha'aharon
1996Billy Lone BearWalsh
1997The Killing JarDr. Vincent Garret
1997Back in BusinessEmery Ryker
1997The Fifth ElementGeneral Munro
1997Snide and PrejudiceHermann Goering
1997The Setting SonJunior
1997Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly HillsSalvador Dalí / Sam
1997The UndergroundCaptain Hilton
1998Jekyll IslandLawton Goodyear
1998Deadly RansomBobby Rico
1998In God's HandsCaptain
1998Border to BorderCard Shark
1998Brown's RequiemCathcart
1998Kai Rabe gegen die VatikankillerMönch
1998Joseph's GiftFrank Childress
1998Black Sea 213Captain Killick
1998A Place Called TruthHank
1999MalevolenceWarden Walker
1999FoolishRuben Reyes, Talent ScoutUncredited
1999Diplomatic SiegeGen. StubbsPosthumous release
1999Dirt MerchantDetective Harry Ball
2000Farewell, My LoveRenault
2000The OperatorVernon Woods
2000The King Is AliveAshley
2000The Thief & the StripperShoe
2005Phoenix PointSpider RicoPosthumous release
Final film role


1974The WaltonsHenry Ferris Jr.Episode: "The Birthday"
1975GunsmokeJoe BarnesEpisode: "Manolo"
1977RootsSlaverTV mini-series
1977The Rockford FilesClamshellEpisode: "The Battle of Canoga Park"
1978Kiss Meets the Phantom of the ParkSecond-in-command park securityTV movie
1978The Incredible HulkAlEpisode: "Alice in Disco Land"
1978Mork & MindyGeorgeEpisode: "Mork's Greatest Hit"
1978Chico and the ManHogEpisode: "Waiting for Chongo"
1979B. J. and the BearBomber / Patrol Officer2 episodes
1979–1981CHiPsAckerman / Monk3 episodes
1980Galactica 1980WillyEpisode: "Galactica Discovers Earth: Part 1"
1980The JeffersonsDirty DogEpisode: "The Arrival: Part 2"
1981BensonAxe-ManEpisode: "The Grass Ain't Greener"
1982Little House on the PrairieAmosEpisode: "A Faraway Cry"
1982Quincy, M.E.Henry MullerEpisode: "Sleeping Dogs"
1982Hear No EvilBilly Boy BurnsTV movie
1982–1984The Dukes of HazzardCaptain Slater / Jenkins2 episdoes
1983The Gambler: The Adventure ContinuesReeceTV movie
1983–1985The A-TeamDavid Plout / Ryder2 episodes
1985The Fall GuyEpisode: "The King of the Stuntmen"
1985Amazing StoriesWillie JoeEpisode: "Mummy Daddy"
1986DynastyHawkins2 episodes
1986AnnihilatorAlien LeaderTV movie
1986–1988Sledge Hammer!Don Merrill / Felix Ridel2 episodes
1987MatlockMr. GrockEpisode: "The Author"
1987The HitchhikerLionelEpisode: "Best Shot"
1988Miami ViceEdward ReeseEpisode: " Borrasca"
1988–1991HunterThomas Duffy / Lt. Jeff Wadsworth2 episodes
1991Tales from the CryptSteve DixonEpisode: "Split Second"
1992–1993Batman: The Animated Series[8]IrvingVoice
2 episodes
1993RenegadeEli StarkeEpisode: "Moody River"
1993Rio DiabloJake WalkerTV movie
1994Silk StalkingsRupert TarlowEpisode: "T.K.O."
1994Knight Rider 2010JaredTV movie
1994Highlander: The SeriesArmand ThorneEpisode: "The Cross of St. Antoine"
1996Aaahh!!! Real Monsters[8]Big Orderly / ChimeraVoice
2 episodes
1996Assault on Dome 4ChairmanTV movie
1996–1997Superman: The Animated Series[8]Rudy Jones / ParasiteVoice
3 episodes
1997Walker, Texas RangerRafer Cobb2 episodes
1997–1999Todd McFarlane's SpawnVoice
6 episodes
1998MillenniumSheriff BowmanEpisode: "Luminary"
1998Men in WhiteGeneralTV movie
1998Men in Black: The SeriesDrekkVoice
2 episodes
1998–1999The Magnificent SevenStuart James2 episodes

Video games

1997Blade RunnerLeon KowalskiVoice
1999Superman 64ParasiteVoice


  • Craig Edwards (Spring 1995). "Brion James; Interview by Craig Edwards". Psychotronic Video. 20: 60–64.



  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved February 13, 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. "Buckalew Family Association". Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  3. Zekas, Rita (May 27, 1993). "His familiar face changes with every new film script". Toronto Star. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
  4. Terrace 1985, p. 188.
  5. "Hear No Evil". Turner Classic Movies. United States: Turner Broadcasting System. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
  6. Terrace 2011, p. 445.
  7. "Brion James".


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