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Brion Howard James (February 20, 1945 – August 7, 1999) was an American character actor. Known for playing the character of Leon Kowalski in the movie Blade Runner, James portrayed a variety of colorful roles in well-known American films such as 48 Hrs., Another 48 Hours, Tango & Cash, Silverado, Red Heat, The Player and The Fifth Element. James' commanding screen presence and formidable physique at Script error: No such module "convert". tall[1] usually resulted in his casting as a heavy, appearing more frequently in lower budget horror and action films throughout the 1980s and 1990s. James appeared in more than 100 films before he died of a heart attack aged 54.

Early life

James was born in Redlands, California, and spent his early years in Beaumont, California, where his parents, Ida Mae and Jimmy James, owned and operated a movie theater. After graduating from high school in 1962, James attended San Diego State University as a Theater Arts major. James was good friends with actor Tim Thomerson, as both served together as cooks in a tank company while in the Army Reserve[citation needed] in California. After their service, they both went to New York to break into acting. Migrating to New York, James immersed himself in the theater scene, taking on bit roles here and there.


In 1975, James landed a small role in the made for TV movie, The Kansas City Massacre, playing John Dillinger gang member Homer Van Meter. Higher profile roles followed in 1976, with his casting in Nickelodeon and Harry and Walter Go to New York. James also appeared in the acclaimed television miniseries Roots and popular 1970s shows such as Gunsmoke, The Incredible Hulk, Mork and Mindy, Chico and the Man, and CHiPs.

James' career began to take a sharp upturn in the early 1980s with several sharply defined character roles in films such as Southern Comfort and 48 Hrs. (which were both directed by Walter Hill), but it was his performance as Leon Kowalski in the 1982 film Blade Runner that gave him his greatest, most lasting fame. Even though his memorable performance threatened to typecast the intense yet versatile actor as a movie villain for the remainder of the decade, James continued to pile up a prolific acting resume, playing significant roles in Enemy Mine, Flesh + Blood, A Breed Apart, Armed and Dangerous, Red Heat, Steel Dawn, Red Scorpion, Tango & Cash and Showdown (portraying an obnoxious high-school vice-principal, Kowalski, whose name was probably an inside joke inspired by Blade Runner). James continued his strong work on the small screen as well, with guest spots in Benson, The A-Team, Little House on the Prairie, The Dukes of Hazzard, Matlock, Miami Vice, Sledge Hammer!, and Dynasty. In the 90s, he appeared in Highlander: The Series, and as Sheriff Bowman in the Millennium season 2 episode "Luminary". He lent his voice to the character of Parasite in Superman: The Animated Series.

His only starring role was in the low-budget 1989 supernatural horror film The Horror Show (aka House III), where he played serial killer "Meat Cleaver Max" Jenke.

In 1994, he played a grouchy sponsor who became a victim of the gruesome goings-on during a 1939 radio show in the film Radioland Murders. Another of his most memorable roles came near the end of his career; as the amiable General Munro in The Fifth Element (1997), a film that was heavily inspired by Blade Runner.

Concerning his talent for playing villains in films, he stated in an interview in Fangoria magazine, "'I consider myself a classical character actor like Lon Chaney, Wallace Beery, Charles Laughton. I always like to play bad guys. I'm real good at psychotic behavior."[2]


James died in 1999 from a heart attack in Malibu, California. He appeared in five feature films which were released following his death. The last of these was Phoenix Point (2005).

The motion picture The King Is Alive (2000) was dedicated to him.

Partial filmography


  • Corvette Summer (1976)
  • Bound for Glory (1976)
  • Nickelodeon (1976)
  • Treasure of Matecumbe (1976)
  • Harry and Walter Go to New York (1976)
  • Blue Sunshine (1976)
  • Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978)
  • The Jazz Singer (1980)
  • Wholly Moses! (1980)
  • Southern Comfort (1981)
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)
  • 48 Hrs. (1982)
  • Blade Runner (1982)
  • A Breed Apart (1984)
  • Flesh & Blood (1985)
  • Enemy Mine (1985)
  • Crimewave (1985)
  • Armed and Dangerous (1986)
  • Steel Dawn (1987)
  • Cherry 2000 (1987)
  • Red Heat (1988)
  • Tango & Cash (1989)
  • Red Scorpion (1989)
  • The Horror Show (1989)
  • Another 48 Hrs. (1990)
  • Circles in a Forest (1990)
  • The Player (1992)
  • Nemesis (1992)
  • Striking Distance (1993)
  • Hong Kong 97 (1994)
  • Cabin Boy (1994)
  • Steel Frontier (1995)
  • Assault on Dome 4 (1997)
  • The Fifth Element (1997)
  • Heist (1998)


  • The Waltons (1974)
  • Gunsmoke (1975)
  • Roots (1977)
  • Mork & Mindy (1978)
  • The Incredible Hulk (1978)
  • Chico and the Man (1978)
  • B. J. and the Bear (1979)
  • The Jeffersons (1980)
  • Galactica 1980 (1980)
  • CHiPs (1981)
  • Benson (1981)
  • Quincy, M.E. (1982)
  • Little House on the Prairie (1982)
  • The Dukes of Hazzard (1984)
  • Amazing Stories (1985)
  • The A-Team (1985)
  • The Fall Guy (1985)
  • Dynasty (1986)
  • Matlock (1987)
  • The Hitchhiker (1987)
  • Miami Vice (1988)
  • Sledge Hammer! (1988)
  • Hunter (1991)
  • Renegade (1993)
  • Silk Stalkings (1994)
  • Highlander: The Series (1994)
  • Superman: The Animated Series (1996)
  • Walker, Texas Ranger (1997)
  • Millennium (1998)


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  1. "Brion James's height is 6 ft 3 in (191 cm)". 
  2. "Brion James". 

External links

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