Henry Silva, Distinctive Actor in ‘Ocean’s Eleven,’ ‘Manchurian Candidate,’ Dies at 95

Henry Silva, an actor with a striking look who often played villains and hadcredits in hundreds of films including “Ocean’s Eleven” and “The ManchurianCandidate,” died of natural causes Wednesday at the Motion Picture Picture andTelevision Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif., his son Scottconfirmed. He was 95.

One of Silva’s most memorable roles came in John Frankenheimer’s classicthriller “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962), in which he played Chunjin, theKorean houseboy for Laurence Harvey’s Raymond Shaw — and an agent for theCommunists — who engages in a thrilling, well -choreographed martial artsbattle with Frank Sinatra’s Major Bennett Marco at Shaw’s New York apartment.

Silva appeared in a number of other movies with Sinatra, including theoriginal, Rat Pack-populated “Ocean’s Eleven” (1960) with Dean Martin andSammy Davis Jr., where he was one of the 11 thieves, and 1962 Western“Sergeants 3 .”

His death was first reported by Dean Martin’s daughter Deana Martin, who wroteon Twitter,“Our hearts are broken at the loss of our dear friend Henry Silva, one of thenicest, kindest and most talented men I’ve had the pleasure of calling myfriend. He was the last surviving star of the original Oceans 11 Movie. Welove you Henry, you will be missed.”

In later years, he appeared in Burt Reynolds vehicle “Sharky’s Machine”(1981), the Chuck Norris movie “Code of Silence” (1985), Steven Seagal movie“Above the Law” (1988), Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy” ( 1990) and JimJarmusch’s “Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai” (1999); Silva’s final screenappearance was a cameo in the “Ocean’s Eleven” remake in 2001.

A 1985 article by Knight-Ridder journalist Diane Haithman headlined “HenrySilva: The Actor You Love to Hate” began this way: “His face looms on screen.A face with sharp, high cheekbones and a blunt, tiny nose, a face that lookslike it was cut out of steel and always is behind a gun. And eyes that seeonly the next victim. cold eye. The eyes of a psychopath. He doesn’t have tosay a thing before you know you hate him. … Silva has made a lifelong careerwith that face (which, by the way, looks fatherly off-camera).”

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Silva told Haithman that growing up in Spanish Harlem helped prepare him forthe kinds of roles he would later play in movies. “’I saw a lot of things inHarlem,’ he recalled in an accent rich with his New York origins. ‘It was thekind of place where if you lived on one block and you wanted to go a fewblocks away, you had to take a couple of guys with you, or else you would getyour ass kicked.’ “

Speaking of his career, the actor told the journalist, ” ‘I think the reasonthat I haven’t disappeared (as a popular “heavy”) is that the heavies I playare all leaders. I never play a wishy-washy anything. They’re interestingroles, because when you leave the theater, you remember these kinds of guys.’”

Silva first made an impression as the henchman to Richard Boone’s villain inBudd Boetticher’s 1957 Western “The Tall T,” starring Randolph Scott. He alsoappeared in Westerns including “The Law and Jake Wade” (he played Rennie, oneof the Confederate ruffians led by Richard Widmark) and “The Bravados.”

In Fred Zinnemann’s “A Hatful of Rain” (1957), starring Don Murray and EvaMarie Saint, he played Mother, the supplier to Murray’s piteous morphineaddict; Silva had created the role of Mother in 1955-56 in the originalBroadway production of the play upon which the movie was based in which BenGazzara and Shelley Winters starred.

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

Silva starred as the title character in the 1963 crime drama “Johnny Cool,” inwhich his character assassinates Mafia bosses in order to gain control of anempire of his own. He also portrayed the title character, a Japanese secretagent earlier played by Peter Lorre, in 1965’s “The Return of Mr. Motorcycle.”

According to an article on the website Cool Ass Cinema, Silva’s “talents as aleading man weren’t fully appreciated till he went to Europe, where Italianfilmmakers put his wild eyed, intense face to good use after a fiery, scene-stealing performance in Carlo Lizzani’s exciting ‘The Hills Run Red’ (1966).“Silva really found his calling in European action thrillers as evidenced inEmilio Miraglia’s taut political thriller ‘Assassination’ (1967),” where he isreborn with a new identity, Chandler, trained as a political assassin and usedto defeat an international crime syndicate . The actor starred the next yearfor Miraglia in “The Falling Man,” in which he played a cop framed for killinga police informer.

Silva got even busier in the 1970s, playing tough customers on both sides ofthe law in movies made in Europe. He had prominent roles, said Cool AssCinema, “in two of Fernando Di Leo’s most accomplished works — ‘Manhunt'(1972) and ‘The Boss’ (1973) — the second and third of his Mafia trilogy thatbegan with the superb genre classic ‘Milan Caliber 9’ (1972).” In ‘Manhunt,’Silva and Woody Strode played American assassins out to silence a pimp who’swrongfully blamed for the disappearance of a shipment of heroin; ‘The Boss’saw one of Silva’s best performances, playing a hitman working for a Mafioso.“His role here,” said Cool Ass Cinema, “defined the signature Silva persona asan infallible, near indestructible presence bearing a cool and calculatingdemeanor.”

Other European credits during the ’70s include Andrea Bianchi’s brutal crimedrama “Cry of a Prostitute,” Umberto Lenzi’s “Almost Human,” “Manhunt in theCity” and “Free Hand for a Tough Cop,” “Weapons of Death” and finally 1979’s”Crimebusters.” “Manhunt in the City” showed a somewhat more vulnerable sideof Silva as an ordinary man driven to seek vengeance when the law fails topunish the killers of his daughter.

In the 1980s he sometimes showed a humorous side as he appeared in rolesparodying his earlier work, such as in “Cannonball Run 2.”

Silva was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Spanish Harlem. According to thebook “Hispanics in Hollywood,” his parents were Italian and Puerto Rican. Hequit school when he 13 and began to take drama classes while supportinghimself as a dishwasher and eventually a waiter. Silva auditioned for theActors Studio in 1955; he was one of five students accepted from a field of2,500 applicants.

He’d made his television debut on “Armstrong Circle Theater” in 1950 and hisbig-screen debut, uncredited, in Elia Kazan’s 1952 film “Viva Zapata!”starring Marlon Brando.

Silva was married twice in the 1950s; his third marriage, to Ruth Earl, lastedfrom 1966 until their divorce in 1987.

He survived by two sons, Michael and Scott. Scott Silva asked that fansremember his father by commenting on his social accounts: Instagram:henrysilvaofficial; Twitter: @MrHenrySilva and Henry Silva official onFacebook.

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