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Stacy Keach Biography


Home > Actors > K > Keach, Stacy > Biography


Birth Name: Stacy Keach
Born: 06/02/1941
Birth Place: Savannah, Georgia, USA




Cited frequently as one of American's finest stage actors, Stacy Keach was a multiple award winner for his commanding performances in productions ranging from Shakespeare to modern classics like "MacBird," "Indians" and "The Kentucky Cycle," netting him widespread acclaim as well as multiple Obies and Drama Desk Awards. Keach's career in front of the camera yielded mixed results, however, though he was praised for early films like "Doc" (1970) and John Huston's "Fat City" (1972). Having never received the same degree of praise as contemporaries like Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson, he still found dividing his time between quality projects like "The Long Riders" (1980) - which he produced with brother James - and "W" (2008) with low-budget efforts like "Mountain of the Cannibal God" (1978) and "Class of 1999" (1990). Television was always his most successful medium outside of the stage, where he made his mark as the two-fisted private eye "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer" (CBS, 1984-87), a popular series that was interrupted by his much-publicized arrest for drug possession in 1985. Despite his infamous legal troubles, Keach never lost touch with his fans, as he worked continually throughout the following decades, most notably on the small screen with a scene-stealing turns on "Titus" (Fox, 2000-02) and "Prison Break" (Fox, 2005-07). Whether playing tough-guy private detectives, beer-swilling patriarchs of dysfunctional families or washed-up fighters looking for a comeback, Keach always brought his absolute best to every performance.



Born Walter Stacy Keach, Jr. in Savannah, GA on June 2, 1941, he was one of two sons born to his namesake father, Stacy Keach, Sr., an actor and producer best known for creating the popular radio serial "Tales of the Texas Rangers" in the early 1950s and countless television appearances. Brother James Keach also followed their father into the acting profession, and later made his name as a television director and Oscar-nominated producer of the Johnny Cash biopic, "Walk the Line" (2005). For his part, Keach developed an interest in performance while in grade school, but accumulated considerable experience at Van Nuys High School and at the University of California at Berkeley in 1959. Acclaim for these early school productions earned him a scholarship to Yale Drama School in 1964, at which time he also made his professional stage debut in a New York Central Park production of "Hamlet" for producer Joseph Papp. The following year, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to London's Academy of Dramatic Art and Music before returning to America and a job with the Lincoln Center Repertory in 1966.



At the Repertory, Keach's appearance as a murderous Lyndon B. Johnson in the satire "MacBird" won him his first Obie and Drama Desk Awards. He further distinguished himself with appearances in "The Country Wife," "The Caucasian Chalk Circle," and a 1968 production of "King Lear" with Lee J. Cobb in the title role. The following year, Keach earned a Tony nomination in his Broadway debut as Western legend Buffalo Bill Cody in Arthur Kopit's "Indians." Theater would form the backbone of his acting career for much of the early 1970s, from which he would reap numerous awards for his work, including Obies for "Long Day's Journey into Night" (1971) and "Hamlet" (1972), the first Broadway production to ever feature an American as the Melancholy Dane. Keach moved into features in the late 1960s with a supporting turn as an alcoholic labor agitator in "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" (1968), starring Alan Arkin and Sondra Locke. His success on stage elevated him to leading man status by the turn of the decade, but his choice of projects were noted more for the quality of production and eclecticism of the subject matter than their box office returns.



From there, Keach was a mentally troubled college professor who undergoes radical therapy in the Terry Southern-penned "End of the Road" (1970), while "The Traveling Executioner" (1970) was the curious tale of a love affair between a former carnival showman (Keach) who toured the country with an electric chair and a female prisoner (Marianna Hill). Turns in Robert Altman's "Brewster McCloud" (1972) as an ancient flying ace and famed gunman Doc Holliday in "Doc" (1971) further solidified the notion of Keach as an actor in pursuit of quality roles instead of movie fame. He did find both, however, in "The New Centurions" (1972), a police drama about a veteran cop (George C. Scott) and his young new partner (Keach). He followed this with the acclaimed "Fat City" (1972), a gritty drama by director John Huston where Keach shined as a washed-up fighter whose personal problems stand in the way of a comeback. Critics also praised him for his portrayal of religious reformer Martin Luther in "Luther" (1973), which put him on the fast track to claiming the role of Father Karras in "The Exorcist" (1973), which might have marked his first blockbuster hit. Instead, But Keach turned down the role and returned to a string of largely unseen features like "Oklahoma Crude" (1973), "The Gravy Train" (1974) and "The Killer Inside Me" (1976).



Also in the decade, Keach tried his hand at a TV series with the cop drama "Caribe" (ABC, 1975), but the show lasted only a season. Meanwhile, his film career stalled in the late seventies, though he remained active in a wide and often deeply disparate variety of films. He had a supporting turn in the Cheech and Chong comedy "Up in Smoke" (1978) and starred opposite Ursula Andress in "Mountain of the Cannibal God" (1979), a ghastly slab of Italian horror-exploitation. He went on to play Frank James to brother James Keach's Jesse James in Walter Hill's thoughtful Western, "The Long Riders" (1980), which him and James also produced. On the small screen, Keach was the thief Barabbas in Franco Zefferelli's epic "Jesus of Nazareth" (1977), before enjoying high-profile roles in the Emmy-nominated "A Rumor of War" (1980) and the Civil War miniseries "The Blue and the Gray" (1982). In 1983, he donned the famed fedora and trench coat of famed fictional detective Mike Hammer in the TV-movie "Murder Me, Murder You" (1983), his first of several appearances as the popular character. The project spawned a series, "Mike Hammer," which eschewed creator Mickey Spillane's graphic violence and kneejerk politics, but retained his somewhat primitive attitude toward women and social conventions, much to the delight of audiences.



The show was a success thanks in part to its easily exploited elements of sex and gunplay, but it was Keach's supremely confident and capable Hammer that made the show a hit, particularly in light of his first Golden Globe nomination. But as he appeared to be on the verge of something big, Keach suffered both personal humiliation and legal calamity in 1985 when he was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport for possession of an ounce and a half of cocaine. The actor took some startling knocks from a less-than-forgiving press and public for his troubles - not to mention spending nine months in England's Redding Prison - but he made a quick turnaround that earned praise from all quarters, including then-First Lady Nancy Reagan. Upon his return, he reprised Hammer in a 1986 TV-movie, "The Return of Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer," which earned strong audience reception. A follow-up series, "The New Mike Hammer" (CBS, 1986-87) was quickly ordered, but fans of the previous version found this new take somewhat lacking in the cheesecake and shoot-out department, rendering it cancelled after just a year.



Keach rebounded with a critically praised performance as literary giant Ernest Hemingway in the 1988 miniseries "Hemingway," which brought him nominations at the Golden Globes and Emmy Awards. The success was short-lived, however, with Keach finding himself back in the regular rotation for forgettable TV-movies and feature films. He did, however, remain remarkably active on stage, winning numerous awards, including a Helen Hayes Award and Drama Desk Award for the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Kentucky Cycle" (1994). Keach also found himself much in demand as a voice-over artist for all manner of television documentaries and series like "Nova" (PBS, 1974- ). He even reprised Mike Hammer for a third time in the syndicated series "Mike Hammer, Private Eye" (1997-98), but that also failed to find an audience. More successful was his starring turn opposite George Wendt and David Dukes in the West End production of "Art" (1998), which was followed by positive notices for his seductive neo-Nazi recruiter in Tony Kaye's controversial feature "American History X" (1998), starring Edward Norton.



Back on television, Keach had a supporting role in the pre-Civil War-set cable movie "The Courage to Love" (Lifetime, 2000), before playing Christopher Titus' lewd, bigoted, hard-drinking father on "Titus" (Fox, 2000-02), an hilarious, but controversial sitcom that dwelled on non-sitcom topics like death, child molestation, mental illness, drug abuse and terrorism. Keach's turn as the cruel Ken Titus - who bedded more women than Mike Hammer himself while delighting in calling everyone "wussies" - often trumped the show's star and quickly became a fan favorite. More television and feature roles preceded his recurring role as a sympathetic prison warden in the action-drama "Prison Break" (Fox, 2005-09), while he maintained a steady presence on stage with a Chicago production of "King Lear" (2006). After an appearance in John Sayles' "Honeydripper" (2007), he co-starred as a preacher opposite Josh Brolin's George W. Bush in Oliver Stone's satirical "W" (2008). Following a return to the stage to play Merlyn in a "Live from the Lincoln Center" presentation of "Camelot" (2008), Keach had a recurring role as Chelsea's father on "Two and a Half Men" (CBS, 2003- ) and was seen as the father of a brain-injured fighter (Holt McCallany) on the short-lived series "Lights Out" (FX, 2011). Following guest appearances on "Bored to Death" (HBO, 2009-2011) and "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006- ), Keach had a supporting role in the espionage reboot "The Bourne Legacy" (2012).