Lethal Weapon Actor Mitchell Ryan Has Passed Away

Mitchell Ryan, who starred in the original Lethal Weapon and Dark Shadows as well as dozens of other movies and shows, has passed away.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

Mitchell Ryan

One of the stars of the original Lethal Weapon has passed away. Veteran character actor Mitchell Ryan, who played the villainous retired General Peter McAllister whose heroin smuggling plot served as the instigating plot of the classic action film, died at the age of 88. While he might not have been a household name like his costars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover (no disrespect to Gary Busey), he had a Hollywood career that stretched for decades and had him starring in numerous notable television shows and movies. He specialized in playing intimidating authority figures (especially later in his career, when his square-jawed matinee idol looks grew more stern), but even within that stock character type, he could play multiple types. 

Mitchell Ryan’s career began all the way back in the 1960s, when he began acting in the theater after his service in the Korean War. Like many of his generation of actors, he found more lucrative work in television, and he was an original cast member of the cult TV show Dark Shadows. For three years, he played Burke Devlin, an ex-convict and sometimes friend, sometimes foe of the central Collins family. He was eventually fired from the soap opera due to his alcoholism, which he had been in recovery from for many years by the time of his death. While Dark Shadows remains a cult show (being a very specific niche of vampire-based soap operas that has only recently come back in vogue with What We Do in The Shadows), it still has a dedicated audience and spawned a regrettably terrible Johnny Depp movie in 2012. 

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Lethal Weapon was perhaps Mitchell Ryan’s most well-known role, in large part because of the sheer longevity of the action franchise. While he only appeared in the first (and best) installment written by Shane Black and directed by Richard Donner, the series has kept a perpetual shelf life in pop culture. A fifth movie is currently in plans (with original star/Hollywood comeback story Mel Gibson set to direct), and a television show ran for three troubled seasons before being canceled. It can definitely be argued that one of the primary reasons for the original film’s success was Ryan’s steely, amoral performance as the lead villain, which set a template for following films villains who were twisted versions of authority like Joss Ackland’s corrupt South African consulate and Stuart Wilson’s LAPD lieutenant turned gunrunner. 

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Aside from his work in Lethal Weapon and Dark Shadows, Mitchell Ryan appeared in dozens of films and TV shows over the course of his career. He had appearances on shows as varied as The A-Team, NYPD Blue, and Star Trek: The Next Generation (in which he had been a prime candidate to play Captain Jean-Luc Picard). He also starred in multiple Clint Eastwood films like Magnum Force and High Plains Drifter, as comedies like Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar. In many ways, Mitchell Ryan was a consummate character actor, who could play many variations on similar characters while still remaining recognizably himself. RIP Mitchell Ryan.