Geoffrey Lewis dies at 79; actor in several Clint Eastwood movies

Geoffrey Lewis, second from left, poses with Beverly D'Angelo, Clyde the orangutan and Clint Eastwood on the set of "Every Which Way But Loose."
(Warner Bros. Inc.)

Geoffrey Lewis, a character actor with hundreds of Hollywood credits who was best known for his roles as a sidekick in Clint Eastwood films, has died. He was 79.

Lewis, whose rugged features and blue eyes made his face more recognizable than his name, had a heart attack Tuesday as he was working out with his son Miles Hochhalter Lewis at the Motion Picture Hospital in Woodland Hills.

He had experienced heart ailments for several years, his son Lightfield Lewis said in an interview.

Geoffrey Lewis appeared in seven Eastwood films, starting with the 1973 Western “High Plains Drifter.” The following year, he was Eddie Goody, a sort of gentle Montana giant involved in the madcap thievery and wild chases of “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.”


“He had the most expressive face,” Eastwood said in a statement Wednesday. “He was a wonderful actor with great expressions that made it so much fun to work with him.”

In “Every Which Way But Loose” (1978), Lewis played a San Fernando Valley tow-truck driver who managed fights for Eastwood’s Philo Beddoe, a bare-knuckles brawler and the proud owner of a pet orangutan. Lewis also acted in the film’s 1980 sequel, “Any Which Way You Can.”

“Those roles all but defined our lives,” said Lightfield Lewis, a filmmaker. “We grew up as the children of the guy in the monkey movies with Clint Eastwood.”

Lewis was married four times and had 10 children, including actress Juliette Lewis. In addition to his children, his survivors include his wife, Paula Hochhalter Lewis; two sisters; and nine grandchildren.

While he sometimes played tough guys on screen, Lewis enjoyed the stuff of slapstick — pratfalls, double-takes, deliberately walking into doors — in everyday life.

“He never stopped,” said his daughter Deirdre Lewis, a writer. “He didn’t care if all the kids rolled their eyes.”

She said her father did not aspire to conventional stardom.

“He was always interested in the character parts,” she said. “Whenever I’d tell people about him, they might not know his name, but as soon as they saw his face, they’d go, ‘Oh, that guy!’ ”

Born July 31, 1935, in Plainfield, N.J., Lewis spent much of his youth in Wrightwood, Calif., where he became an avid skier. He took acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City and performed off-Broadway and at regional theaters in Massachusetts. He tried his hand at Hollywood in the 1960s.

A prolific television actor, he received a Golden Globe nomination for his work on the 1980s sitcom “Flo,” a spinoff of “Alice,” and also appeared in series such as “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Mork & Mindy,” “Lou Grant,” “Magnum, P.I.,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “The X-Files” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

In addition to his Eastwood films, Lewis’ movie credits include “The Culpepper Cattle Co.” (1972), “The Great Waldo Pepper"(1975), “Heaven’s Gate"(1980), “Catch Me If You Can” (1989), “The Lawnmower Man” (1992), “The Man Without a Face” (1993) and “Maverick” (1994).

In 2000, he appeared with daughter Juliette Lewis in “The Way of the Gun,” a suspense thriller that opens at a sperm bank. In a gripping scene, Geoffrey Lewis plays a suicidal man in a trailer who wordlessly chooses one of a half-dozen guns, holds it to his head, and nonchalantly answers a phone to tell a caller that no, he’s not busy at all.

“I gained this whole other admiration for him,” Juliette Lewis told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I could see him as an actor and watch his incredible focus. Between takes, I would ask him about his old spaghetti westerns.”

Twitter: @schawkins