Henry Silva, an actor of striking appearance who often played villains and had credits in hundreds of films, including “Ocean’s Eleven” and “The Manchurian Candidate,” died of natural causes at the Motion Picture Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland on Wednesday. Hills, California, his son Scott confirmed. He was 94.
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 houseboy for Laurence Harvey’s Raymond Shaw – and an agent for the Communists – who engages in a tense, well-choreographed martial arts fight with Frank Sinatra’s Major Bennett Marco at Shaw’s New York apartment.
Silva appeared in a number of other films with Sinatra, including the original Rat Pack-populated “Ocean’s Eleven” (1960) starring Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., where he was one of 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 at the loss of our dear friend Henry Silva, one of the nicest, kindest and most talented men I have had the privilege of calling my friend. He was the last remaining star of the original Oceans 11 movie. We love you Henry, you will be missed.”
In later years he appeared in Burt Reynold’s vehicle “Sharky’s Machine” (1981), the Chuck Norris film “Code of Silence” (1985), Steven Seagal film “Above the Law” (1988), Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy” (1990) and Jim Jarmusch’s “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” (1999); Silva’s last screen appearance was a cameo in the 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven” remake.
A 1985 article by Knight-Ridder journalist Diane Haithman with the headline “Henry Silva: The Actor You Love to Hate” began this way: “His face looms up on the screen. A face with sharp, high cheekbones and a stubby , small nose, a face that looks like it’s cut out of steel and that’s always behind a gun And eyes that only see the next victim Cold eyes The eyes of a psychopath He doesn’t have to say anything before you know you hates him.… Silva has built a lifelong career with that face (which, by the way, looks fatherly off-camera).”
Silva told Haithman that growing up in Spanish Harlem helped prepare him for the kinds of roles he would later play in movies. “I’ve seen a lot of things in Harlem,” he recalled in an accent rich in his New York heritage. “It was one of those places where if you lived on a street and wanted to go a few blocks away, you had to take some guys with you or you’d get kicked in the ass.” “
Speaking about his career, the actor told the journalist, “I think the reason I haven’t gone down (as popular ‘heavy’) is that the heavyweights I play are all leaders. I never play slack. They are interesting roles because when you leave the theater you remember these kind of guys.’ ”
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 villains 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 purveyor of Murray’s wretched morphine addict; Silva had created the role of Mother in 1955-56 in the original Broadway production of the play the film starring Ben Gazzara and Shelley Winters was based on.
In Audrey Hepburn-Anthony Perkins vehicle “Greens Mansions” (1959), he played 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 kills mob bosses to gain control of an empire of his own. He also portrayed the title character, a Japanese secret agent previously played by Peter Lorre, in “The Return of Mr. Motorcycle from 1965.
According to an article on the website Cool Ass CinemaSilva’s “leading man talents were not fully appreciated until he went to Europe, where Italian filmmakers put his wild-eyed, intense face to good use after a fiery, scene-stealing performance in Carlo Lizzani’s rousing ‘The Hills Run Red’ (1966). “Silva really found his calling in European action thrillers, as evidenced by Emilio Miraglia’s tight political thriller ‘Assassination’ (1967)” where he is reborn with a new identity, Chandler, trained as a political assassin and used to run an international crime syndicate. The actor starred for Miraglia the following year in “The Falling Man,” in which he played a cop accused of murdering a police informant.
Silva got 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 of his mafia trilogy that began with the sublime genre classic ‘Milan Caliber 9’ (1972).” In “Manhunt,” Silva and Woody Strode played out American hitmen to silence a pimp wrongly blamed for the disappearance of a shipment of heroin; “The Boss” saw one of Silva’s best performances, playing a hit man who “His role here,” said Cool Ass Cinema, “defined Silva’s signature persona as an infallible, nearly indestructible presence with a cool and calculating demeanor.”
Other European credits in the 1970s 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 up to 1979’s “Crimebusters” ending. “Manhunt in the City” showed a more vulnerable side of Silva as an ordinary man driven to exact revenge when the law doesn’t punish his daughter’s killers.
In the 1980s, he sometimes showed a humorous side when he appeared in roles that parody his earlier work, such as in ‘Cannonball Run 2’.
Silva was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Harlem, Spain. According to to the book Hispanics in Hollywood, his parents were Italian and Puerto Rican. He dropped out of school when he was 13 and began taking drama classes 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 a field of 2,500 applicants.
He had made his television debut in “Armstrong Circle Theater” in 1950 and his big screen debut, uncredited, 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. Scott Silva asked fans to remember his father by commenting on his social accounts: Instagram: henrysilvaofficial; Twitter: @MrHenrySilva and Henry Silva officially on Facebook.