Tom Atkins (actor)

Tom Atkins

Tom Atkins at the 2007 Monstermania convention
Born (1935-11-13) November 13, 1935
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1963-present
Spouse(s) Garn Stephens(divorced)
Janice Atkins (1986present)
Children Taylor Atkins

Tom Atkins (born November 13, 1935) is an American television and film actor. He is primarily known for his work in the horror film genre, having worked with writers and directors such as John Carpenter, Stephen King, and George A. Romero. He is also a familiar face to mainstream viewers, often playing police officers.


Early life

Atkins was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Dorothy E. (née Williams) and George C. Atkins.[1] During his childhood, Atkins was a fan of horror and science fiction, one of his best loved films being the Howard Hawks classic The Thing from Another World.[2] He initially had no desire to be an actor. His father worked in a Steel Mill in Pennsylvania and Atkins assumed that he would follow in his father's footsteps. He then enlisted in the United States Navy and "noticed that the officers lived great, but that was only because they had gone to college,"[3] and so, after leaving the Navy, Atkins signed up for college where he met a girl who was involved in a theatre group. Tom attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and was a member of the Gamma Phi Fraternity. He says: "I was in my 20s already when I got interested in acting and I liked it a lot."[3]


Atkins began his career in stage plays both on-and-off Broadway, before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and television.[3] His first movie role was in The Detective, which starred Frank Sinatra. Talking of his experience working on his first feature film - and with Sinatra - Atkins says: "It was great! It was intimidating and frightening and scary but Frank was great. He was very easy to work with. He didn't like to do a lot of takes. But then it's not like we were doing Shakespeare."[3]

After many appearances in TV series and movies - often playing police detectives - Atkins began working within the horror and science fiction genres. He starred in two films directed by John Carpenter: he appeared as Nick Castle in the 1980 ghost story The Fog and as Rehme in the 1981 science fiction thriller Escape from New York. He then took a leading role as Dr. Dan Challis in the sequel Halloween III: Season of the Witch directed by Tommy Lee Wallace and produced by John Carpenter.[4] He did further work with George A. Romero, appearing in three of the latter's projects: in the Romero-Stephen King project, Creepshow (1982), in which he plays the overbearing father of a young Joe Hill (King's son) in the wraparound segment; then in another anthology, Two Evil Eyes (1990), based upon tales by Edgar Allan Poe; and Bruiser (2000).[5] He portrayed Detective Ray Cameron in the 1986 cult horror film Night of the Creeps, a role Atkins calls his very favorite. He tells Classic-Horror magazine "It was the most fun film I've ever worked on. It was a pure giggle from beginning to end. The director Fred Dekker was very young and very talented and he went on to do The Monster Squad afterwards. I think he wrote a terrific film that was kind of a big put-on of 50s horror. And I had great lines in that movie!"[3]

He has nevertheless continued to act in both the thriller and police procedural genre. He is well known to movie goers for his role as Michael Hunsaker in the Richard Donner hit film Lethal Weapon (1987), with Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, and Gary Busey; the film was produced by Donner and Joel Silver, written by Shane Black. He also took a role in the action-thriller, Striking Distance (1993), alongside Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Tom Sizemore. In television, Atkins played Lt. Alex Diehl in the 1970s television series The Rockford Files with James Garner. He reprised his role of Commander Diehl for a series of Rockford Files movies in the 1990s.[5]

Atkins has made numerous guest appearances on many popular television shows, including M*A*S*H, Baretta, Harry O, The Fall Guy, Xena: Warrior Princess, Walker, Texas Ranger, Oz, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.[6]

He is a frequent player in shows in the Pittsburgh theatre scene, most famously in the one-man show The Chief at Pittsburgh Public Theater, in which he depicted the late founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Art Rooney. Also at the Public, he played the title role in Macbeth, opposite Jean Smart as Lady Macbeth and Keith Fowler as Macduff. He was the star of A Musical Christmas Carol at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, portraying the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. He appeared on Broadway in David Storey's The Changing Room, for which he received the 1973 Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Performer.

In 2009, he had a supporting role as a retired sheriff in the remake My Bloody Valentine 3D[7] and co-starred with Nicolas Cage in Todd Farmer's Drive Angry, in 2011.[8] Atkins is scheduled to have a lead role in Patrick Lussier's Halloween 3D.[9]

Personal life

Atkins' first wife was actress Garn Stephens, who appeared in Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Following the couple's divorce, he married Janis Lee Rodgers on March 15, 1986, with whom he has one child, Taylor.[10]

Selected filmography

The Detective (1968)

Atkins' first film role with Frank Sinatra, and Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Duvall, Jack Klugman and Lee Remick. He plays Officer Jack Harmon in this Crime film, which tracks the life and work of a Police detective. It is based on The Detective (novel) by Roderick Thorp and was one of the highest-grossing films of 1968 in film and one of Sinatra's biggest Box-office hits.[11]

The Fog (1980)

Atkins plays Nick Castle in John Carpenter's supernatural revenge story: a fisherman and love interest of Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis); he is also one of the key characters to battle the fog-zombies. The Fog (1980) is a cross-genre horror film, a mix of the classic ghost story and the contemporary slasher flick. Atkins stars alongside Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, and Nancy Loomis.[12] The name Nick Castle is that of the actor who plays Michael Myers in another John Carpenter film.

The Ninth Configuration (1980)

This comedy-thriller is written and directed by novelist William Peter Blatty (author of The Exorcist). It is based upon his novel. The Ninth Configuration (1980) features Atkins as Sergeant Krebs . It is set within a secluded castle, now an insane asylum for US Troops who have gone AWOL. The new commander is there to help rehabilitate the troops, his method being to let them act out their wildest fantasies. One problem: he too is insane. The films also stars Stacy Keach and Robert Loggia.[13]

Escape from New York (1981)

John Carpenter cast Atkins again for his post apocalyptic science fiction film, Escape from New York (1981), in which he plays Rehme, one of the military commanders given the task of monitoring both the President - and later, Snake Plissken - after they are dropped into the heart of Manhattan, now a maximum security prison. He was cast alongside Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence, Kurt Russell, and Harry Dean Stanton.[14]

Creepshow (1982)

Directed by George A. Romero and scripted by Stephen King (based on short tales by the latter), Atkins plays Stan in the wraparound segment that brackets this anthology of five horror tales featuring an arctic monster, vengeful zombies, giant bugs, and a verdant alien virus. Creepshow (1982) features Adrienne Barbeau, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Viveca Lindfors, E.G. Marshall, Leslie Nielsen, and Fritz Weaver. Stephen King's son (Joe Hill) plays Billy, the horror-mad son of Atkins in the film. The film marks Atkins's third appearance with Barbeau.[15] On Creepshow, Atkins explains that King was on the set much of the time and was 'concerned' because Atkins had to hit his son, Joe: 'I had to reassure him that I wouldn't hurt his son...but that it'd look good. And it did and it was fine and his son was terrific. And a couple of years ago I was at a convention and this tall kid - dressed in dark clothes, brown hair, glasses, big brown beard - stood over me and I looked up at him and said, "Is there a Joe King behind all that?" and he said, "Yeah, Tom, it's me." He looks just like his dad and I believe he's a writer now too'.[16]

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Atkins headlined this Halloween sequel, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), about a demented Irish toymaker who goes back to the Celtic festival of Samhain, the roots of Halloween. Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) has produced a line of Silver Shamrock masks, each containing pieces of the Blue Stone, which he has stolen from Stonehenge in the UK. He intends to sacrifice the children of America on Halloween Night. Atkins plays Dr. Daniel 'Dan' Chalis, a surgeon who winds up investigating Cochran and his evil toy factory. The film is produced and scored by John Carpenter and is the only film of the series not to feature the suburban killer Michael Myers. Halloween 3 also stars Nancy Loomis, whom Atkins worked with in The Fog.[17]

Night of the Creeps (1986)

From Fred Dekker, writer of House (1986 film) and director of The Monster Squad (1987), Night of the Creeps (1986) is Atkins's best loved film.[18] He stars as Ray Cameron, a hard-boiled cop with a troubled past, investigating sinister events in a small town, most notably at a local sorority house, where a parasitic alien race have entered their human hosts, turning the latter into killer zombies. Comedy Horror.[19]

Lethal Weapon (1987)

Atkins co-starred in the hit buddy cop action thriller, Lethal Weapon (1987), with Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, and Gary Busey. The film is directed by Richard Donner, produced by Joel Silver, and scripted by Shane Black. He plays Michael Hunsaker, a Vietnam War veteran who did his tour of duty with Roger Murtaugh (Glover). Murtaugh is now a Police detective partnered with the unstable Martin Riggs (Gibson), investigating the supposed suicide of Hunsaker's daughter. Their investigations lead to another band of ex-Vietnam Special Ops vets - Shadow Company - who are smuggling heroin into the country. Murtaugh realizes Hunsaker is more involved than Hunsaker cares to admit. Early in the film, the Hunsaker character is killed by the Shadow Company smugglers.[20] Lethal Weapon remained at the #1 spot for three weeks.[21]

Maniac Cop (1988)

Directed by William Lustig and written by Larry Cohen, Atkins headlined Maniac Cop (1988), a horror-thriller also starring Bruce Campbell, Laurene Landon, Leo Rossi, Richard Roundtree, William Smith (actor), and Robert Z'Dar. He plays Frank McCrae, a hardened detective investigating a series of brutal murders by a uniformed cop. Officer Jack Forrest (Campbell) is the first cop under suspicion and is arrested in connection with the murders. But the real Maniac Cop, Matt Cordell, is still out there taking his victims. Forrest, his girlfriend Theresa (Landon), and McCrae must stop Cordell before he strikes again. Cameos include Jake LaMotta, William Lustig, and Sam Raimi.[22]

Two Evil Eyes a.k.a. Due Occhi Diabolici (1990)

Two Evil Eyes (1990) - aka Due occhi diabolici - is a two-part horror anthology based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Dario Argento directs the segment The Black Cat and George A. Romero the segment The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. Romero returned to Atkins for this project, as well as Adrienne Barbeau, making this the fourth Atkins-Barbeau collaboration. Atkins plays the character Detective Grogan. Two Evil Eyes also features E.G. Marshall, whom Atkins worked with in Creepshow, and Harvey Keitel.[23]

Bob Roberts (1992)

Bob Roberts (1992) is a satirical mockumentary written and directed by - and starring - Tim Robbins. It was Robbins' directorial debut. The film is centered around conservative politician and United States Senate candidate, Bob Roberts. Atkins plays Dr. Caleb Menck, Roberts' personal physician.The film's other stars include Jack Black, John Cusack, Giancarlo Esposito, Peter Gallagher, Helen Hunt, Jeremy Piven, Alan Rickman, James Spader, David Strathairn, Fred Ward, Ray Wise, and Gore Vidal.[24]

Striking Distance (1993)

Striking Distance (1993) is an action-thriller directed by Rowdy Herrington - of Road House fame - and starring Bruce Willis. It is focused on Tom Hardy (Willis), a cop who hails from a family of police officers, and who ends up fighting his uncle after his father is murdered. Tom is demoted to River Cop, after going on record that he thinks the killer is another cop within the department, and begins his own investigation after the killer taunts him. Atkins plays Fred Hardy. The cast also includes Andre Braugher, Dennis Farina, Brion James, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Tom Sizemore[25]

Bruiser (2000)

Atkins teamed up with George A. Romero for the third time in Bruiser (2000),a horror film about a man who one day wakes to find that his face is now a smooth white, featureless mask. Freed by this newfound anonymity, he then seeks revenge on all who have wronged him.[26] Atkins plays Detective McCleary. Other cast members include: Jason Flemyng, Leslie Hope, and Peter Stormare.[27]

My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)

Patrick Lussier directed this remake of the 1981 horror film. It features Atkins as character James 'Jim' Burke. My Bloody Valentine 3D tracks the return of Tom Hanniger to his hometown, following the death of his father. It is the tenth anniversary of the Valentine Massacres and the murders have begun once more. Tom finds he is the prime suspect.[28]

Drive Angry 3D (2011)

Atkins' second film with Patrick Lussier, this time starring with Nicolas Cage, William Fichtner, Amber Heard, and David Morse. The story is of a vengeful father, John Milton (Cage), who has escaped from Hell and is bent on pursuing the men - including Jonah King (Billy Burke) - who killed his daughter and kidnapped his granddaughter. He is assisted by Piper (Heard) and The Accountant (Fichtner). Atkins plays the character Sheriff Cap who, with his troops, pursues the pursuers.[29]

Complete filmography





  1. Tom Atkins Biography (1935-)
  2. Atkins, Tom, The Internet Movie Database, [accessed] 17 April 2011.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Fallows, Tom, Tom Atkins Interview (Night of the Creeps), Classic-Horror Web Zine 14 October 2009.
  4. "'Drive Angry' Casting That Will Surely "Thrill" You".
  5. 1 2 Tom Atkins, Internet Movie Database, [accessed] April 14, 2011.
  6. Tom Atkins talks “DRIVE ANGRY”…and “HALLOWEEN III”!
  7. "Monster-Mania 14 Guest List Grows". DreadCentral. February 7, 2010. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  8. "Exclusive: Tom Atkins is BACK and Ready to Drive Angry". DreadCentral.
  9. "Tom Atkins Talks Halloween 3D". DreadCentral.
  10. "Tom Atkins Biography (1935-)". Retrieved 18 December 2011.
  11. The Detective, The Internet Movie Database, [accessed] 17 April 2011.
  12. Fog, The MGM Studios, 1980.
  13. The Ninth Configuration, Internet Movie Database, [accessed] April 15, 2011.
  14. Escape from New York, MGM Films, 1981.
  15. Creepshow, Laurel Entertainment, 1982.
  16. Fallows, Tom, Tom Atkins Night of the Creeps Interview,, 14 October 2009.
  17. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Universal Pictures, 1982.
  18. Fallows, Tom, Tom Atkins 'Night of the Creeps Interview', Classic Horror Online Zine, Oct 14, 2009.
  19. Night of the Creeps, TriStar Pictures, 1986.
  20. Lethal Weapon, Warner Bros., 1987.
  21. "'Lethal Weapon' Is No. 1 At Box Office for Week". The New York Times. 11 March 1987. Retrieved 2010-11-08.
  22. Maniac Cop at the Internet Movie Database
  23. Two Evil Eyes, BDC Productions, 1990.
  24. Bob Roberts, Miramax Films, 1992.
  25. Striking Distance, Internet Movie Database, [accessed] April 15, 2011.
  26. Sevin, Ronnie, Bruiser Synopsis, Internet Movie Database, [accessed] April 15, 2011.
  27. Bruiser, Romero-Grunwald Productions, 2000.
  28. My Bloody Valentine 3D, Internet Movie Database, April 15, 2011.
  29. Drive Angry 3D, Millenium Films, 2011.
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