Robert Donner, 75; Character Actor Played Oddballs on TV, in Films
Robert Donner, a character actor who specialized in playing eccentrics, including the crazed prophet Exidor on the popular sitcom “Mork & Mindy,” has died. He was 75.
Donner, who appeared in more than 100 films and television shows, died Thursday of a heart attack at his Sherman Oaks home, said Michael Belson, his former agent.
On “Mork & Mindy,” which aired from 1978 to 1982, Donner led an invisible cult called the Friends of Venus. Whenever the friends whom only Exidor could see got in the way, he uttered his signature phrase -- “Mork! Is that you?” -- to series star Robin Williams.
“Bobby was very, very skilled at comedy. He worked all the time in an era when they were phasing out character actors,” said Michael Lembeck, whose father, Harvey, a comedic actor best known for his role on “The Phil Silvers Show,” taught Donner at comedy-improv workshops. “And he had a very droll, very dry sense of humor.”
That was evident in Donner’s official biography, which mentions that he joined the Navy after high school, “serving three years, 11 months, 29 days, and six and one-half hours.”
Born April 27, 1931, in New York City, Donner grew up in New Jersey, Michigan and Texas. After discovering the West Coast while in the service, he decided to stay and attended what is now Cal State Northridge.
While living in a Studio City apartment, he became friends with a neighbor who was also an actor. Clint Eastwood thought Donner was funny and urged him to study acting, according to Donner’s biography.
With uncredited roles in two John Wayne westerns -- “Rio Bravo” (1959) and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” (1962) -- Donner started building a career.
He seemed to revel in “spooky, oddball roles of the street evangelist/undertaker/obsessive lawman variety,” according to the online database All Movie Guide.
Among Donner’s film credits are “Cool Hand Luke” (1967), “Vanishing Point” (1971), “High Plains Drifter” (1973) and “The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing” (1973). His final film, the family comedy “Hoot,” was released last month.
“I guess I’m like the rest of my fellow character actors,” Donner told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 1988. “I keep my guns loaded and go where the action is.”
On television, he also had a long-running role as Yancy Tucker on “The Waltons” in the 1970s. He appeared in dozens of television series, including “Columbo,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “MacGyver,” “The Fall Guy,” “Matlock” and “Falcon Crest.”
He was a founding member of Harvey Lembeck’s comedy-improv group, the Crazy Quilt Comedy Company, which counted John Ritter, Penny Marshall and Williams among its alums.
An avid golfer, Donner frequently played in celebrity tournaments and performed stand-up comedy at various fundraisers.
He is survived by his wife, Jill, and two brothers.