R.I.P. Clu Gulager, familiar face from 'The Virginian' and 'Return of the Living Dead'

He was known for playing gunslingers, deputies, and even for fighting zombies.

The Everett Collection

Even if you don't know his name, if you're a fan of classic Westerns, you probably know Clu Gulager. 

He was one of those character actors who appeared all over classic TV, but he especially was known for his Western appearances. Have Gun — Will Travel, Wagon Train, Ironside, Bonanza, Wanted Dead or Alive... Gulager blended into the wild west sets like he belonged there.

In 1960, he got the chance to play one of history's most notorious gunslingers, Billy the Kid, in the TV series The Tall Man. The two-season show saw Gulager playing against Barry Sullivan as Sheriff Pat Garrett. 

It wouldn't take long after the cancellation of The Tall Man for Gulager to get one of his most famous roles — Deputy Sheriff Emmett Ryker on The Virginian. In his very first episode, aptly titled "Ryker", he went up against a corrupt land-grabber played by Leslie Neilsen. Gulager would stay on the show for 102 episodes before leaving in 1968.

While he never took on a main role again in TV, he appeared as guest roles in everything from Falcon Crest to Walker, Texas Ranger to even a voice role on Beavis and Butt-Head.

In 1985, Gulager took another well-known role in the cult classic Return of the Living Dead, which is famous for introducing the concept of zombies wanting to chow down on brains specifically. As Burt Wilson, Gulager plays the owner of a warehouse whose employees accidentally unleash a hoarde of the dead onto an unsuspecting town. 

The same year, Gulager reinforced his horror legacy by appearing in the Nightmare on Elm Street sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge where he played the father of the main character. He would later appear in the 2019 documentary about the movie, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street.

Gulager's son, John Gulager, cast his dad in multiple of his own films starting in the 2000s. He appeared in John's 2005 horror comedy Feast, as well as Feast II: Sloppy Seconds and Feast III: The Happy Finish. In 2012, he worked with his son again in Piranha 3DD.

His final film appearance was in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

On Facebook, his daughter-in-law Diane Goldner released a family statement: "Clu was as caring as he was loyal and devoted to his craft, a proud member of the Cherokee nation, a rule-breaker, sharp and astute and on the side—always—of the oppressed. He was good-humored, an avid reader, tender and kind. Loud and dangerous... He is survived by his sons John and Tom, their partners Diane and Zoe, his cherished grandson Clu Mosha, dedicated fans, and decades of extraordinary students."

The long-time actor was 93 years old.

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26 Comments

Sugarlips 30 days ago
Thanks MeTV for remembering Clu Gulager. None of the other Networks in memoriam sites did. Shameful.. Not only was he a popular character actor, but he was a good family man who didn't abuse drugs and alcohol, or have affairs. Never heard anything bad about him. No scandal or divorce. Married to an attractive woman Miriam Byrd Nethery til she passed away from brain tumor. They are riding the range of Heaven together again. ❤️
Jon 5 months ago
RIP to a fellow Baylor Bear. I haven't seen many VIRGINIAN episodes, but I did see him in 2 guest appearances that he made prior to playing Ryker. In the earlier episode, he played a criminal trying to get his brother out of a murder charge. In the other he played a deaf man very well. I've also seen him on ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR, where he played a man trying to steal a statue from a novice nun played by Carol Lynley.
eddiecantorfan 6 months ago
https://youtu.be/MPSiVBweSv8
TV Themes From 40 Great
TV Westerns starting with
The Lone Ranger.
eddiecantorfan 6 months ago
https://youtu.be/BR3UtOZk5Oo
The CBS NBC and ABC
COLOR Intros from several
years ago.
Jon eddiecantorfan 5 months ago
NBC did its color intro first, then ABC then CBS followed suit later.
tootsieg 6 months ago
Clu Gulager had an amazing body of work. I will always remember him in “The Killers”. Very good movie.
Rest In Peace.
eddiecantorfan 6 months ago
https://youtu.be/hjjUlljGNK0
I like The Virginian Theme
Song. RIP Clu Gulager .
tootsieg eddiecantorfan 6 months ago
Thanks for posting. Good theme song, great show and nice to see the opening again.
Nala92129 6 months ago
I'm wondering what his real first name was. "Clu" is short for what?
Mike Nala92129 5 months ago
William Martin Gulager.
'Clu' was a childhood nickname.
(Looked it up.)
texasluva 6 months ago
Clu has 165 actor credits. Played in most of the TV (shows-series) during his acting career. Along with many movies--The Killers (1964) The Last Picture Show (1971) A Nightmare on Elm St 2 and Return Of The Living Dead (1985). R.I.P. Clu----
MrsPhilHarris 6 months ago
I remember him in all sort of shows. He was all over tv back in the 70s and 80s.
Andybandit 6 months ago
Wow, a lot of good Actors and Actresses passed away this year. How sad.
BrittReid 6 months ago
R.I.P. Clu Great character actor. He was Vincent 'Mad Dog' call on The Untouchables.
bruceisloose 6 months ago
One of the last great western stars, along with Robert Fuller. He had a great evil laugh on shows like Mannix. He'll be missed but will live on in reruns.
TheDavBow3 bruceisloose 6 months ago
I was thinking about that laugh on Mannix too! Great actor.
Matsui 6 months ago
Superstar Actress & Singer Olivia Newton-John died of Cancer at 73 in Santa Barbara California Today August 8, 2022. RIP & a BIG Celebration of Her Life.
Mike Matsui 5 months ago
That's Dame Olivia Newton-John - since 2020.
Matsui 6 months ago
RIP Clu Gulager, I remember him most in McQ (1974) and Return of the Living Dead (1985).
Dina 6 months ago
I think he found a good home on the Virginian, but I'll always remember his role in one of the episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock hour, Final Vow.
maxh22 6 months ago
RIP to another great actor. You will be deeply missed.
DethBiz 6 months ago
RIP Clu. Watched him a lot on the Virginian, but will always remember him in Return of the Living Dead. One of my fondest childhood memories because my favorite cousin who passed away in 2016 took me to see it. Also, got a chuckle out of his cameo in Puppet Master 5.
daDoctah 6 months ago
For some reason the role I most remember him for was a scene as a Federal agent in John Landis's movie "Into the Night", a movie packed with cameos by directors and others.
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