Robert Swan, actor known for ‘Hoosiers,’ ‘The Babe’ and ‘The Untouchables,’ dies at 78

A man with medium-length white hair and facial hair in a black sweater smiling
“The Untouchables” actor Robert Swan died Wednesday from cancer. He was 78.
(From Betty Hoeffner)

Robert Swan, an actor who starred in the films “The Untouchables,” “Hoosiers” and “The Babe,” has died. He was 78.

Betty Hoeffner, Swan’s best friend, confirmed to The Times that the actor died in his sleep Wednesday at his Indiana home after a long battle with cancer.

For the record:

5:53 p.m. Aug. 9, 2023An earlier version of this story located Harbor Country Opera incorrectly in Minnesota. It is in Michigan.

Swan is best known for portraying a Canadian Mountie captain in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables,” an Illinois farmer and father of two in David Anspaugh’s sports drama “Hoosiers,” and the father of baseball great Babe Ruth in “The Babe.”


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Born on Oct. 20, 1944, Swan began his foray into entertainment as a singer, bringing his bass baritone talents to various choirs in Illinois. Stints with the Lyric Opera and Chicago Symphony during his 20s ultimately led to stage roles.

In the 1970s, Swan performed alongside actors Shelley Berman and Robert Conrad at Illinois’ Little Theater on the Square. In 1974, he starred in a Broadway production of “The Freedom of the City.”

Years later, Swan appeared in a minor role in 1980’s “Somewhere in Time.” The acting jobs — film and TV — kept coming in the following years, including Daniel Petrie’s 1984 film “The Dollmaker,” starring Jane Fonda.

In 1986, Swan shared the screen with Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper and Sheb Wooley in the basketball drama “Hoosiers.” He appeared as Indiana farmer Rollin Butcher, who eventually becomes the assistant coach to Hackman’s coach Norman Dale.

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In the ’90s, Swan appeared in a number of high-profile films including Quentin Tarantino’s “Natural Born Killers” and Ron Howard’s “Backdraft.” In 1993, Swan and Anspaugh reunited for another sports drama, “Rudy,” starring Sean Astin in the title role.

Swan’s additional film credits include “Who’s That Girl,” “Backdraft” and “Going All the Way.” He also appeared in the television series “Missing Persons,” “The Twilight Zone” and “The Equalizer.”


When Swan’s career hit a lull in the early aughts, he turned his efforts to voice-over jobs. He recorded movie trailers, commercials and promotions for a variety of products.

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Swan was also an opera singer who founded Michigan’s Harbor Country Opera, which has performed “The Magic Flute,” “Les Misérables” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

He is survived by wife Barbara, brothers David and Charles, sister-in-law Elizabeth, nephews Christopher, Bryan and Daniel, and two dogs.

A celebration of life is set to include a reading of Swan’s screenplay “The Saint and the Scoundrel,” but more details have yet to be revealed.