As far as legendary screen villains go Richard Jordan had the market cornered. If you were a screen hero and never had Jordan as a nemesis then you missed out! Richard Jordan was more than that though – a solid award winning character actor who was believable in everything he did on stage and screen – a true Hero of Cult.
Richard Jordan was born on 19th July 1937 in New York City, to Robert Anson Jordan, Sr., from Boston, Massachusetts, and Constance (née Hand), from New York. His maternal grandfather was Learned Hand, judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and one of the most respected jurists in the United States. In 1942, when Jordan was five years old, his parents divorced. His mother married Newbold Morris, president of the New York City Council.
Jordan attended The Hotchkiss School. Following his graduation from Harvard University in 1958, Jordan began his acting career in earnest. In 1961, he appeared on Broadway with Art Carney and Elizabeth Ashley in Take Her, She’s Mine. He also began working in television productions, appearing in episodes of The Defenders, Naked City, Empire, and The Wide Country. He performed with Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in productions of Shakespeare’s plays, such as The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It. In 1966, Jordan returned to Broadway, appearing in Generation with Henry Fonda.
Beginning in 1970, Jordan turned from television to feature film work. He co-starred in Lawman (1971) and Valdez Is Coming (1971) with Burt Lancaster, and appeared opposite Robert Mitchum twice, in The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), as the informant-Coyle’s handler, a pragmatic U.S. Treasury agent; and in The Yakuza (1975) as the bodyguard of Mitchum’s friend, George Tanner. He played a host of villains and mixed good guy-villains in films such as the western Rooster Cogburn (1975), sci-fi adventure Logan’s Run (1976), and the Woody Allen-directed drama Interiors (1978). There was also the occasional “good guy,” as in Old Boyfriends (1979), in which he played the father of his own daughter, Nina.
Jordan also continued on the stage, joining Ralph Waite in the L.A. Actor’s Theatre. He wrote, directed and performed in plays such as Venus of Menschen Falls (1978). In 1976, he starred as Joseph Armagh, an Irish immigrant who fights his way to power and wealth but loses his soul along the way, in the television miniseries Captains and the Kings. Jordan earned a Golden Globe award, and an Emmy nomination for the production. In the 1980s, Jordan performed in films including Raise the Titanic (1980), Flash of Green (1984), Dune (1984), The Mean Season (1985) and The Secret of My Success (1987). He co-starred in an acclaimed television production of The Bunker (1981), playing Albert Speer to Anthony Hopkins’s Hitler.
Furthermore, from 1987-1988 Jordan appeared in ten episodes of the popular television series The Equalizer, he helping fill in while the star, Edward Woodward, recovered from a heart attack. On stage, he won an Obieaward for his appearance in New York in the Czech playwright Václav Havel’s A Private View (1983) and an L.A. Drama Critic’s Award for directing another Havel play, Largo Desolato (1987). In Romero (1989), Jordan played Romero’s friend, Father Rutilio Grande.
In 1990, Jordan directed a production of Macbeth in New York City. He played U.S. National Security Advisor Jeffrey Pelt in The Hunt for Red October. He starred in a television production of Three Hotels (1991) and the 1991 “Deadline” episode of Tales from the Crypt. In Posse (1993), Jordan portrays Bates, a racist sheriff with his own plans for land on which the Negro town of Freemanville stands.
Jordan’s last film to be released was Gettysburg (1993), which was filmed during the summer of 1992. He portrayed Brig. Gen. Lewis “Lo” Armistead, who was one of the Confederate officers in the doomed Pickett’s Charge at the battle of Gettysburg. Producer-Director Ronald F. Maxwell dedicated the film to Jordan and to author Michael Shaara, whose novel The Killer Angels was adapted for the film.
Sadly by 1993 Jordan’s health was beginning to fail him and he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was filming The Fugitive in April 1993 when his terminal illness forced him to withdraw. He died on 30th August 1993, cared for by his daughter Nina and his companion, Marcia Cross. He was 56 years old.
Jordan’s daughter, Nina Jordan, was born in 1964, during his 1964–72 marriage to actress Kathleen Widdoes. His son, Robert Christian Anson Jordan III, was born in 1982, during his nine-year relationship with actress Blair Brown. At the time of his death, Jordan was in a relationship with actress Marcia Cross.
A memorial in Jordan’s honor was held at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles on October 8, 1993, the day Gettysburg was released.
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