Henry Silva, ‘last surviving star’ of original ‘Oceans Eleven’, dies at 95

Henry Silva, a striking-looking actor who often played villains and had credits in hundreds of movies including ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and ‘The Manchurian Candidate,’ died Wednesday of natural causes at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital of Woodland Hills, Calif., his son Scott confirmed. He was 95 years old.

One of Silva’s most memorable roles came in John Frankenheimer’s classic thriller “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), in which he played Chunjin, the Korean servant of Laurence Harvey’s Raymond Shaw – and an agent for the communists – who engages in an exciting, well – choreographed martial arts battle with Frank Sinatra’s Major Bennett Marco in Shaw’s New York apartment.

Silva appeared in a number of other films with Sinatra, including the original ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ (1960) starring Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., where he was one of the 11 Thieves, and the 1962 Western ‘Sergeants 3.”

His death was first reported by Dean Martin’s daughter, Deana Martin, who wrote on Twitter, “Our hearts are broken by the loss of our dear friend Henry Silva, one of the kindest, kindest and most talented men I have ever had the pleasure of calling my friend. He was the last surviving star of the original Oceans 11 movie. We love you Henry, we will miss you.

Later he appeared in Burt Reynolds’ vehicle “Sharky’s Machine” (1981), Chuck Norris’ film “Code of Silence” (1985), Steven Seagal’s film “Above the Law” (1988), “Dick Tracy” by Warren Beatty (1990) and “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” by Jim Jarmusch (1999); Silva’s last screen appearance was in the 2001 remake “Ocean’s Eleven”.

A 1985 article by Knight-Ridder journalist Diane Haithman titled “Henry Silva: The Actor You Love to Hate” began: “His face appears on screen. A face with high, protruding cheekbones and a small blunt nose, a face that looks like it’s been carved out of steel and is still behind a gun. And eyes that only see the next victim. Cold eyes. The eyes of a psychopath. He doesn’t have to say a word before you know you hate him. … Silva has done his entire career with this face (which, by the way, looks fatherly off-camera).

Henry Silva on the set of the film
Henry Silva on the set of “The Secret Invasion” in 1964.Archives de Michael Ochs / Getty Images

Silva told Haithman that growing up in Spanish Harlem helped prepare him for the kinds of roles he would play later in movies. “’I saw a lot of things in Harlem,’ he recalls with a rich accent of his New York origins. “It was the kind of place where if you lived a block away and wanted to go a few blocks away, you had to take a few guys with you or you’d get your ass kicked. » «

Speaking about his career, the actor told the reporter, “’I think the reason I haven’t disappeared (as a popular heavy) is because the heavy guys I play are all leaders. I never play anything bland. These are interesting roles, because when you leave the theater, you remember this kind of guy. ”

Silva first made an impression as the henchman of Richard Boone’s villain in Budd Boetticher’s 1957 western “The Tall T,” starring Randolph Scott. He also appeared in westerns, including “The Law and Jake Wade” (he played Rennie, one of the Confederate thugs led by Richard Widmark) and “The Bravados.”

In Fred Zinnemann’s “A Hatful of Rain” (1957), starring Don Murray and Eva Marie Saint, he played Mother, the supplier to Murray’s pitiful morphine addict; Silva originated the role of Mother in 1955-56 in the original Broadway production of the play on which the film was based in which Ben Gazzara and Shelley Winters starred.

In the Audrey Hepburn-Anthony Perkins vehicle “Greens Mansions” (1959), he plays the evil son of the chief of a primitive tribe in the Venezuelan jungle; he also played a Native American in “Five Savage Men” (1970) and “Sergeants 3” (1962).

Silva starred in the 1963 crime drama “Johnny Cool,” in which his character assassinates mob bosses in order to gain control of his own empire. He also played the title character, a Japanese secret agent previously played by Peter Lorre, in “The Return of Mr. Moto” in 1965.

Henry Silva attends the Golden Boot Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 12, 2006.
Henry Silva attends the Golden Boot Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 12, 2006.Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

According to an article on the Cool Ass Cinema website, “Silva’s talents as a leading man were not fully appreciated until he traveled to Europe, where Italian filmmakers set profited his face with wild and intense eyes after a fiery and breathtaking performance. in Carlo Lizzani’s exciting “The Hills Run Red” (1966). “Silva really found his calling in European action thrillers, as evidenced by Emilio Miraglia’s tense political thriller ‘Assassination’ (1967)”, where he was reborn with a new identity, Chandler, trained as a political assassin and used to defeat an international crime syndicate. . The actor starred the following year for Miraglia in “The Falling Man,” in which he played a cop accused of killing a police informant.

Silva became even busier in the 1970s, playing tough clients on both sides of the law in films made in Europe. He had prominent roles, Cool Ass Cinema said, “in two of Fernando Di Leo’s most accomplished works — ‘Manhunt’ (1972) and ‘The Boss’ (1973) — the second and third in his trilogy. Mafia that started with the superb classic genre ‘Milan Caliber 9’ (1972). In “Manhunt”, Silva and Woody Strode played American assassins to silence a pimp wrongly accused of the disappearance of a shipment of heroin; “The Boss” saw one of Silva’s best performances, playing a hitman working for a mobster. “His role here,” Cool Ass Cinema told, “defined Silva’s signature character as an unerring, nearly indestructible presence of cool, calculating demeanor.” »

Other 1970s European credits include Andrea Bianchi’s brutal crime drama “Cry of a Prostitute,” Umberto Lenzi’s “Almost Human,” “Manhunt in the City,” and “Free Hand for a Tough Cop,” ‘Weapons of Death’ and finally 1979’s ‘Crimebusters’. ‘Manhunt in the City’ showed a slightly more vulnerable side of Silva as an ordinary man driven to seek revenge when the law fails to punish his daughter’s killers. .

In the 1980s, he sometimes showed a humorous side by appearing in roles parodying his earlier work, such as in “Cannonball Run 2”.

Silva was born in Brooklyn and raised in Spanish Harlem. According to the book “Hispanics in Hollywood,” his parents were Italian and Puerto Rican. He left school at the age of 13 and began taking drama lessons while supporting himself as a dishwasher and eventually a waiter. Silva auditioned for the Actors Studio in 1955; he was one of five students accepted from 2,500 applicants.

He had made his television debut at the Armstrong Circle Theater in 1950 and his uncredited big-screen debut in Elia Kazan’s 1952 film “Viva Zapata!” with Marlon Brando.

Silva married twice in the 1950s; his third marriage, to Ruth Earl, lasted from 1966 until their divorce in 1987. He is survived by two sons, Michael and Scott.

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