John Saxon, ‘Enter the Dragon’ actor, dies

Actor John Saxon, shown in 2012.
Actor John Saxon, shown in 2012, was best known for starring with Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon” and appeared in several “A Nightmare on Elm Street” films as well as TV series.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

John Saxon, the darkly handsome actor best known for starring with Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon” and appearing in several “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movies, has died at his home in Murfreesboro, Tenn., of pneumonia. He was 83. The news was confirmed by his wife, Gloria.

Saxon’s former wife Elizabeth, who was married to him from 1987 to 1992, posted a tribute following the news. “We were lifelong friends, he was much more than a celebrity,” she said, describing him as an “amazing, deeply disciplined and compassionate man.”

“He marched in Selma with Martin Luther King [Jr.] and remained an advocate for all those oppressed on this Earth. As a gifted actor, writer and director, he shied away from most of the glittering attention and yet understood the privilege it gave him,” she wrote. “While the world will gaze on his talents, I want the world to know much more about how great his love was for humanity and how he cared about all the people in and out of his life. My grief will mark the end of a great friendship but the memories of how much his presence influenced my life and others’ will last an eternity.”

Born Carmine Orrico, the son of Italian American parents, Saxon grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and began modeling as a teenager. “I started doing jobs for magazines, like Modern Romance, all the Macfadden publications,” Saxon told The Times in 2012. “I did about a dozen of them in one year.”

He then caught the eye of legendary talent agent Henry Willson, who spotted Saxon on the cover of a magazine and brought him to Hollywood.

“I did a scene with an actress at Universal and they said, ‘OK,’” the actor recalled in 2012. His name was changed to John Saxon, and he signed a contract that paid him $150 a week for 40 weeks a year.

“I came to Hollywood at 17 and after a year or so of study was placed in romantic teenage parts in ‘The Unguarded Moment,’ ‘Rock, Pretty Baby,’ and ‘Summer Love,’” he told The Times in 1960.

Saxon said he loved working in Hong Kong with Lee in “Enter the Dragon” because “he took me seriously. I would tell him I would rather do it this way, and he’d say, ‘OK, try it that way.’”


The actor was often cast as a Native American or a Latino. Among other characters, Saxon portrayed a Native American chief on the popular TV western series “Bonanza” and Marco Polo on the futuristic hit TV show “The Time Tunnel.” In 1966, he appeared in the Marlon Brando western “The Appaloosa” and earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal as a Mexican bandit.

For decades, he appeared regularly in television series such as “Gunsmoke,” “Dynasty” and “Falcon Crest,” as well as guest starring on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Magnum P.I.” and dozens more.

Later in his career, Saxon entered the horror genre with 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” portraying Lt. Thomas. He reprised the role in 1987’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” and played a version of himself in 1994’s “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.”

He also appeared locally onstage, including starring as Sky Masterson in a 1973 Long Beach Civic Light Opera production of “Guys and Dolls,” replacing Richard Dreyfuss in “The Tenth Man” at the Solari Theater in 1977 and appearing in “Talk About Money” at the Tiffany Theater in 1999.

Saxon lived in Brentwood for many years and in 1986 was named Brentwood’s 20th honorary mayor, succeeding actor Mark Harmon.

Saxon is survived by his wife, Gloria, and son, Antonio.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.