PASSINGS: George Murdock, Charles ‘Skip’ Pitts

George Murdock

Character actor often played the ‘heavy’

George Murdock, 81, a veteran character actor who had a recurring role as Lt. Scanlon on the television sitcom “Barney Miller” and played God in the 1989 film “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” died Monday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, said his close friend and fellow actor Jennifer Rhodes. He had cancer.

Murdock’s craggy facial features and booming bass voice helped him land a steady stream of “heavy” parts in theater, film and television productions. When asked if he ever objected to being typecast, the actor told a Times reporter in 1982: “Getting the job is important. Who cares where it comes from.”


A Kansas native, Murdock was an original cast member at the Melrose Theatre in Los Angeles, starring in “Lester Sims Retires Tomorrow” there and during its off-Broadway run in the early 1980s. He appeared in many productions at South Coast Repertory, the Los Angeles Theater Center and the Odyssey Theatre, where he originated the role of Judge Julius Hoffman in “The Chicago Conspiracy Trial” in 1979.

Murdock had dozens of roles on episodic TV series, beginning in the early 1960s with “Twilight Zone” and “The Untouchables” and continuing through the decades with “It Takes a Thief,” “Bonanza,” “The Name of the Game,” “Ironside,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Night Court,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “The X-Files,” “Law & Order” and other shows. Besides his “Barney Miller” part, he was also a regular on the mid-1980s show “What a Country!”

In the fifth installment of the “Star Trek” movie series, Murdock’s character strikes down Kirk with a lightning bolt when the captain asks: “What does God need with a starship?”

Charles ‘Skip’ Pitts


Guitarist helped create ‘Theme From Shaft’

Charles “Skip” Pitts, 65, a longtime Memphis guitar player who helped create the distinctive sound of Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft,” died Tuesday in Memphis after battling cancer, according to Tim Sampson, communication director for the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

Pitts was responsible for the unforgettable wah-wah pedal guitar sound on Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft” for the 1971 blaxploitation film that remains a memorable moment in American popular culture. Pitts’ riff was angry and bristling with menace, capturing a dangerous vibe that transcended the screen and translated to the streets of a tense nation.

He was also responsible for the guitar line from the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing.”

Pitts grew up in Washington, D.C., and had a long, historic run in Memphis after moving there to join Hayes. He played with the deep-voiced soul singer for nearly four decades, worked as a session musician for Stax Records, where some of America’s most notable music was made; and logged time with many significant soul and blues acts, including Al Green, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas and Albert King.

Late in his career, he made appearances in such movies as “Black Snake Moan,” to which he also contributed three soundtrack entries, and “Soul Men” and performed on the score for “Hustle and Flow.”

Most recently he appeared on Green’s “I Can’t Stop” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Memphis Blues.” He also released an album last year with his band, the Bo-Keys.

-- Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports


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