Tom Atkins (born November 13, 1935) is an American actor. He is known for his work in the horror and thriller film genres, having worked with writers and directors such as Shane Black, William Peter Blatty, John Carpenter, Fred Dekker, Richard Donner, Stephen King, and George A. Romero. He is also a familiar face to mainstream viewers, often playing police officers and tough authority figures and was best known for his role as Lt. Alex Diel in The Rockford Files (1974-1977).
Atkins has appeared in numerous films including The Fog (1980), The Ninth Configuration (1980), Escape from New York (1981), Creepshow (1982), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Night of the Creeps (1986), Lethal Weapon (1987), Maniac Cop (1988), Two Evil Eyes (1990), Bob Roberts (1992), Striking Distance (1993), My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009), Drive Angry (2011), Encounter (2018), Trick (2019) and the science fiction short film Polybius (2020) where he portrays the role of Sheriff Atkins.
Atkins has also appeared in numerous television series and films such as Hawaii Five-O (1975), Kojak: Flowers for Matty (1990), What She Doesn’t Know (1992), Walker, Texas Ranger (1993), Fortune Hunter (1994), Xena: Warrior Princess (1996), Homicide: Life on the Street (1998), Oz (2003), Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2003), The Jury (2004), Horror’s Hollowed Grounds (2016) and The Last-Drive In with Joe Bob Briggs (2019).
Atkins was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Dorothy E. (née Williams) and George C. Atkins. 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. 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,” and so, after leaving the Navy, Atkins signed up for college where he met a girl who was involved in a theatre group. Tom studied at the 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.”
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. 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.”
After appearing in TV series and movies, including portraying Lt. Alex Diel in seasons 1 and 2 of The Rockford Files, Atkins began working within the horror and science fiction genres. He appeared in two films directed by John Carpenter: the 1980 ghost story The Fog and the 1981 science fiction thriller Escape from New York. His next role (this time a leading role) was the third instalment of the Halloween franchise, the Carpenter-produced Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982).
He completed further work with George A. Romero, appearing in three of the director’s projects: the anthology Creepshow (1982), written by Stephen King; the anthology Two Evil Eyes (1990), based on tales by Edgar Allan Poe; and Bruiser (2000).
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!”
Atkins has 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 film Lethal Weapon (1987), which stars Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, and Gary Busey. In 1993 he took a role in Striking Distance (1993) alongside Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Tom Sizemore. In television, Atkins reprised his role of Commander Diehl for a series of Rockford Files movies during the 1990s.
Atkins 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 and co-starred with Nicolas Cage in Todd Farmer’s Drive Angry, in 2011; both films are directed by Patrick Lussier.
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 Atkins.
|1968||The Detective||Harmon||Gordon Douglas|
|1970||Where’s Poppa?||Policeman In Apartment||Carl Reiner|
|1970||The Owl and the Pussycat||Kid In Car||Herbert Ross||Uncredited|
|1976||Special Delivery||Cop On Beat||Paul Wendkos|
|1977||Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo||Buddy||Stuart Hagmann||Made-for-TV Movie|
|1980||The Fog||Nick Castle||John Carpenter|
|1980||The Ninth Configuration||Sergeant Krebs||William Peter Blatty|
|1981||Escape from New York||Captain Rehme||John Carpenter|
|1982||Creepshow||Stan||George A. Romero||(segments “Prologue” / “Epilogue”), Uncredited|
|1982||Halloween III: Season of the Witch||Dr. Dan Challis||Tommy Lee Wallace|
|1985||The New Kids||‘Mac’ MacWilliams||Sean S. Cunningham|
|1986||Night of the Creeps||Ray Cameron||Fred Dekker|
|1987||Lethal Weapon||Michael Hunsaker||Richard Donner|
|1988||Lemon Sky||Douglas||Jan Egleson|
|1988||Maniac Cop||Detective Frank McCrae||William Lustig|
|1990||Two Evil Eyes||Detective Grogan||George A. Romero, Dario Argento||(segment “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar”)|
|1992||Bob Roberts||Dr. Caleb Menck||Tim Robbins|
|1993||Striking Distance||Sergeant Fred Hardy||Rowdy Herrington|
|2000||Bruiser||Detective McCleary||George A. Romero|
|2001||Out of the Black||Eugene Carter||Karl Kozak|
|2002||Turn of Faith||Charlie Ryan||Charles Jarrott|
|2009||My Bloody Valentine 3D||Sheriff Jim Burke||Patrick Lussier|
|2009||Shannon’s Rainbow||Captain Martin||Frank E. Johnson|
|2009||Trapped||Detective Abbott||Ron Hankison, Gavin Rapp|
|2010||The Chief||Art Rooney Sr.||Steve Parys|
|2011||Drive Angry||Captain||Patrick Lussier|
|2011||Arriving at Night||Phil Redman||Andrew Ford||Short Film|
|2014||Apocalypse Kiss||Captain John Vogle||Christian Grillo|
|2014||Judy’s Dead||Roy||Dave Rodkey|
|2015||Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini||Himself||Jason Baker||Documentary|
|2018||Encounter||Professor Westlake||Paul Salamoff|
|2020||Polybius||Sheriff Atkins||Jimmy Kelly||Short film|
|TBA||The Collected||Clu||Marcus Dunstan||Announced|