William Smith Dies, Hawaii Five-O and Any Which Way You Can Star Was 88

William Smith, the actor who was best known for brawling with Clint Eastwood in Any Which Way You Can as well as appearing regularly on the last season of Hawaii Five-O, has passed away at the age of 88. The news was confirmed by Smith’s wife, Joanne Cervelli Smith, who said that her husband had died at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, California. He is survived by his wife of 31 years, and his two children, William E Smith III and Sherri Anne Cervelli.

William Smith was born in 1933 on the cattle ranch owned by his family, where he then grew up working with many much loved horses. By the time he was ten, the family moved home to Southern California, but the years he spent living on the ranch would have a profound effect on him and greatly influenced the parts he would later place during his 70 year career in movies and TV, which began as an eight year old when he starred in The Ghost of Frankenstein in 1942. While that role was uncredited, there were plenty of other opportunities to come.

Before starring as a hard man on screen, Smith served as a real life tough guy, flying secret missions with the Air Force throughout the Korean War, and while serving he made time to gain an education from institutions in Munich and Paris which led to him earning himself a master’s degree at UCLA. With his 6 foot 2 stature and 18 inch biceps, Smith became a champion discus thrower, arm-wrestler and a martial arts black belt while at UCLA, and could reportedly do reverse curls of 163 pounds and do 5100 continuous situps.

Following his time in the Air Force and his graduation, Smith had planned on going to work for the government, but instead signed a contract to star in a number of mostly western movies and TV shows for MGM, which included Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Batman, Lassie and The Mod Squad. He became a first choice actor when it came to biker films, with starring roles in The Losers, Angels Die Hard, Chrome and Hot Leather and Eye of the Tiger. He muscled up alongside another movie hard-man, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in Conan The Barbarian, as Conan’s father, and Red Dawn, the latter of which saw him speaking in fluent Russian.

He starred in almost every possible TV series of the 70s and 80s, including Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Hawaii Five-O, The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider and The A Team. As well as one off appearances, he also had recurring roles in Wildside, Emerald Point NAS, Rich Man Poor Man, Daniel Boone and The Guns of Will Sonnett.

He took on Clint Eastwood’s Philo Beddoe in Any Which Way You Can, the sequel to Every Which Way But Loose, in which Smith’s Jack Wilson was seen fist-fighting his way through what was called “the most knuckle-busting, gut-wrenching, brain-scrambling, butt-bruising, lip-splitting brawl of all time.” by the movie’s trailer. Speaking in an interview for the book Tales From The Cult Film Trenches, Smith said of the scene, “It has to be one of the longest two-man fights ever done on film without doubles. We shot it in Jackson, Wyoming, which is about 8,000 feet high in altitude, and I was smoking so hard at the time.”

His other movies have included cult horror Piranha, David Cronenberg’s Fast Company, the Francis Ford Coppola movie Rumble Fish and a number of Blaxploitation movies including Hammer and Black Samson. In all, Smith was credited with roles in over 280 films and TV shows, and was certainly never short of work from his first steps in the industry through to his final role in the 2020 movie Irresistible. His death has touched the many, many people he worked with as well as the millions of fans he had gathered over the seven decades of his career. This news was first reported in Deadline.

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