Billy Drago, a prolific character actor who was best known for playing villains, notably in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables” and Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider,” died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 73.
His son Darren said the cause was complications of heart failure.
In “The Untouchables” (1987), Mr. Drago played Frank Nitti, a white-suited henchman for Al Capone (Robert De Niro), armed with a gun permit handwritten by the mayor of Chicago. In a memorable scene, Nitti is ultimately thrown from a roof by the Prohibition agent Eliot Ness, played by Kevin Costner. (In real life, Nitti’s death was a suicide.)
The film was based on a book of the same name written (with Oscar Fraley) by Ness, who led a famous team of Chicago agents known as the Untouchables. (The book had also been the basis of a television series, starring Robert Stack as Ness, that ran from 1959 to 1963.)
While shooting the movie in Chicago, Mr. Drago got to know Nitti’s descendants, who took him on a tour of the city’s blues clubs. They “started treating me like I really was Frank Nitti,” he recalled in an interview posted by the online magazine The Void.
He added: “They made sure my back was to the wall, so I could see everybody, and all the young Italian turks would come by to pay their respects, and they’d all say, ‘Sooooo, playin’ Uncle Frank, huh? Lookin’ good, lookin’ good.’ ”
In “Pale Rider” (1985), a western about a mysterious preacher (Mr. Eastwood) who arrives to protect a village from a cruel mining company, Mr. Drago played a loyal but lowdown deputy to the villain of the story, Marshall Stockburn (John Russell).
Before becoming an actor, Mr. Drago (pronounced DRAH-go) was a radio journalist and a popular disc jockey in Kansas whose show was nationally syndicated. One of his sponsors was a traveling theater company, which, after a successful audition, he joined.
When the tour was over, he continued to pursue stage acting in New York City, gaining small parts, including one in a production at Lincoln Center. He later moved to Los Angeles to try his hand at acting in movies.
He was born Billy Eugene Burrows on Nov. 30, 1945, in Hugoton, in southwestern Kansas, to William and Gladys Marie (Wilcox) Burrows. He attended the University of Kansas.
Mr. Drago appeared in more than 100 movies and television shows, including several episodes of the popular series “Charmed” in the early 2000s. In 2001 he played a bad-guy deputy to a briefly seen Marlon Brando in the music video for Michael Jackson’s “You Rock My World.” A fan of the 1977 horror movie “The Hills Have Eyes,” Mr. Drago was given a role in the 2006 remake.
Mr. Drago’s marriage to Edith Hunt ended in divorce. In addition to his son Darren, he is survived by another son, Derrick; a sister, Patty; a brother, Steve; and eight grandchildren.
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