“American Graffiti” actor dead at 84

Actor Bo Hopkins, best known for his roles in “American Graffiti” and “The Wild Bunch,” has died at the age of 84.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Hopkins died Saturday at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, California. He’d suffered a heart attack on May 9.

As THR noted, Hopkins will be best remembered as “the wily actor with the wild-eyed gaze who came to fame portraying thieves and scoundrels.”

“With his hair-trigger delivery, Hopkins was a favorite of Sam Peckinpah, who cast him in three features — as Clarence ‘Crazy’ Lee in The Wild Bunch (1969), as a double-crossed bank robber in The Getaway (1972) and as a weapons expert in The Killer Elite (1975),” the outlet reported.

However, if Hopkins is remembered for one movie, it will be his role in 1973’s “American Graffiti,” directed by George Lucas and starring Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard.

Hopkins played Joe Young, leader of greaser gang The Pharaohs. In an iconic scene, he talks Dreyfuss’ character into latching a hook and chain to a police car. When the car gave chase, its rear axle fell off.

“I go to car shows because American Graffiti is the national anthem of car shows,” Hopkins said during a 2012 interview.

“Graffiti got people out draggin’ and going up, and down streets cruisin’. It got people into cars doing that kind of stuff again. If I told you how many times people have come up to Candy [Clark], Paul [Le Mat] and me at these shows and told us that we’ve changed their lives, you wouldn’t believe it.”

Hopkins — real name William Maudlin Hopkins — was born on Feb. 2, 1938 in Greenville, South Carolina and was sent to live with his grandparents after his father’s death. In his youth, Hopkins displayed traits that demonstrated he had some experience with being a “thief and scoundrel” before he played one on screen.

“Quite the handful growing up, Hopkins said he used to steal money from family members to treat his friends to the movies. He was headed to reform school after a botched robbery when he enlisted in the U.S. Army just before his 17th birthday,” THR reported.

“I don’t know how my mother and grandmother put up with me,” Hopkins said. “Later, I went back home and took them to see ‘The Wild Bunch’ and my second movie, [1969’s] ‘The Bridge at Remagen.’ And that’s when everybody who said I was gonna end up in prison said they always knew Billy was going to make something of himself.”

He worked his way up from local theater in the South to some time in New York, after which he moved out to Hollywood. Roles on “The Phyllis Diller Show,” “Gunsmoke” and “The Andy Griffith Show” led to bigger things.

In his later career, Hopkins transitioned over to good-guy roles. Quentin Tarantino, the executive producer of 1999’s “Dusk to Dawn 2: Blood Money,” picked Hopkins out specifically for a part.

“Tarantino told me that he loved my work and that he had this part,” he said. “Well, I got the script and said, ‘Sure, I’ll do this. This is great.’ Well, they didn’t tell me they were going to shoot in South Africa.”

His final film credit was role in the 2020 adaptation of J.D. Vance’s novel “Hillbilly Elegy,” directed by “American Graffiti” co-star Ron Howard.

He’s survived by his children, Matthew and Jane.