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Fisher Stevens

Barry Corbin Biography


Home > Actors > C > Corbin, Barry > Biography


Birth Name: Barry Corbin
Born: 10/16/1940
Birth Place: LeMesa, Texas, USA


The eldest of three children born to Texas State Senator Kilmer Blaine Corbin and his wife Alma, an elementary school teacher, he began life as Leonard Barrie Corbin on Oct. 16, 1940 in Lamesa, TX. He spent much of his childhood idolizing the heroes of the serial Westerns like Sunset Carson, but also noted how much fun sidekicks like Gabby Hayes and Fuzzy Jones seemed to be having onscreen. Acting became his primary interest, and he gained his earliest experience at Monterey High School in Lubbock. The basic curriculum held little interest to Corbin, who spent most of his free time watching theater rehearsals at nearby Texas Tech University, which eventually became his alma mater. Theater was his main focus at the school, though Corbin followed no particular degree program; while there, he performed in local community theater and even in ballet productions. To support himself, he worked on an oil rig and picked cotton. College came to a halt when he joined the Marine Corps on a dare; his younger brother Blaine followed suit, largely to keep an eye on his sibling. Corbin trained South Vietnamese soldiers at Camp Pendleton before bouncing between stations in Lubbock and California until his discharge in 1963.

Now back in the civilian world, Corbin resumed his pursuit of an acting career. Brief stops in Chicago and North Carolina yielded little work, but he eventually gained his Actors' Equity card, and lit out for New York. Arriving in 1966, he took roles in everything that came his way - from dinner theater to touring companies and even television. His screen debut came with a 1970 episode of "It Takes a Thief" (ABC, 1968-1970), but stage would be his primary showcase for the next decade, including stints on Broadway in Shakespeare's "Henry V" and the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, CT. In 1977, Corbin relocated to Los Angeles, where he found work as a playwright for National Public Radio. More scripts for stage and radio followed, while he continued auditioning for roles. His big break came in 1979 when he was cast as John Travolta's Uncle Bob, a former rodeo champ who trains his nephew on the finer points of bull riding, in James Bridges' "Urban Cowboy." Despite his successful audition, Corbin nearly lost the role when the casting agency lost his photo, but thankfully, someone in the production recalled his name.

The runaway success of "Cowboy" led to a steady stream of character parts for Corbin, many of which drew upon his rough-hewn exterior and Texas upbringing for verisimilitude. He was a natural for playing authority figures with a touch of good ole' boy to them, like his warden in the Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor comedy "Stir Crazy" (1980), his colorful NORAD general in "WarGames" (1983), and in Westerns like "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez" (1982) or the Emmy-winning miniseries "The Thorn Birds" (ABC, 1983), for which he played the helpful stockman, Pete, who teaches the Cleary's children how to shear sheep. His honest, no-nonsense delivery made him a favorite of stars like Clint Eastwood, who cast him in supporting roles in "Any Which Way You Can" (1980) and "Honky Tonk Man" (1982), as well as Burt Reynolds, with whom he co-starred in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" (1982) and "The Man Who Loved Women" (1983). Occasionally, Corbin's characters showed a flash of danger, like his duplicitous promoter in "Honky Tonk," but for the most part, he played tough but fair, as evidenced by his recurring role as Sheriff Fenton Washburn on "Dallas" (CBS, 1978-1991) or his stern but loving dad to an aspiring rock and roller on the critically acclaimed "Boone" (NBC, 1983-84).

The exposure afforded to Corbin by these performances led to a steady stream of work throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Television was his frequent outlet, most notably in TV movies like the Emmy-winning "Fatal Vision" (NBC, 1984) as Army investigator Franz Greber; "Flight 90: Disaster on the Potomac" (NBC, 1984), which cast him as real-life airline disaster survivor Burt Hamilton; and "LBJ: The Early Years (CBS, 1987) as an advisor to Lyndon Johnson (who in real-life also happened to be a friend of Corbin's father). Feature work was also steady during this period, with turns in "Nothing in Common" (1986), as Tom Hanks' eccentric millionaire employer and Dennis Hopper's "The Hot Spot" (1994). One of Corbin's favorite roles - that of the slow-witted and ill-fated deputy Roscoe Browne in the multi-Emmy-winning "Lonesome Dove" (CBS, 1989) - came during this exceptionally busy period.

One year later, he signed on for the role that became his most memorable - that of former astronaut Maurice Minnifield on "Northern Exposure." An insensitive, bigoted boor at first blush, Maurice wielded his money and power with an iron fist in the tiny Alaskan town of Cicely. Yet behind closed doors, he could be thoughtful, even lovelorn - his heart had been broken when the teenaged beauty queen (Cynthia Geary) he brought to town fell for his best friend, elderly barkeep Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum) - and a bit of a metrosexual in regards to fine cooking and show tunes. Minnifield was the employer/father figure that every viewer loathed and yet secretly admired, and Corbin's rich performance - surely one of the more complex of his career - earned him two Emmy nominations for Supporting Actor in 1994 and 1995. An Emmy-winning episode of the series also reflected a real incident in Corbin's life. In "Seoul Mates," Maurice discovered that he had a son from a Korean woman he met overseas during the war, while in 1991, Corbin met his own daughter, Shannon, whom he had fathered out of wedlock in 1965.

When "Exposure" ended its network run in 1995, Corbin was busier than ever. He had worked on relatively few projects during his work on the show, save for "Conagher" (TNT, 1991), a Western with Tom Selleck that won him a Western Heritage Award in 1992. But by 1996, Corbin was appearing in no less than six projects a year, including the Quentin Tarantino-produced black comedy "Curdled" (1996) as the manager of a crime scene clean-up company, and the USA Network series "The Big Easy" (1996-97) as a colorful ex-police officer. Corbin also toured the country in a one-man play he co-authored called the "The Last Night of Charlie Goodnight," about the famed Texas cattle rancher, and was a frequent voiceover talent for documentaries, audiobooks and videogames. In 1994, he earned an Emmy nomination for the space race documentary "Moon Shot" (TBS) as the voice of astronaut Deke Slayton.

In 2003, he returned to series work as Whitey Durham on "One Tree Hill." A veteran coach of the high school circuit, Durham offered tough love and sage advice to his students, as well as a few wayward adults. Fans of "Northern Exposure" were surprised by Corbin's appearance in the program: the onset of alopecia in the 1990s caused the actor to lose his hair, and he had gone completely bald by the time of his new series. Corbin lasted with "Hill" until its fourth season, but returned as a guest star in its fifth and sixth seasons. As Corbin approached his seventh decade, his career showed no signs of slowing. He remained a staple of both major and independent features, with appearances opposite Tommy Lee Jones in "No Country for Old Men" (2007) and "In the Valley of Elah" (2007) among his most visible work. In 2009, he shared a Special Jury Award from the South by Southwest Film Festival for "That Evening Sun" (2009), a gripping drama with Hal Holbrook as an elderly, displaced homeowner who fights to reclaim his birthplace and Corbin as a sympathetic neighbor. And from 2007 to 2009, he enjoyed a recurring role as Clay Johnson, a retired military man and father to Kyra Sedgwick's canny detective on "The Closer" (TNT, 2005- ). He also expanded his CV to include two stints as producer on the short "A Death in the Woods" (2007) and the quirky comedy "Feed the Fish" (2009).