Cliff Emmich, the fun-loving character actor who made his mark in Payday, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Halloween II and Little House on the Prairie, has died. He was 85.
Emmich died Monday at his Valley Village home in Los Angeles after a long battle with lung cancer, his rep Steve Stevens told The Hollywood Reporter.
In perhaps his most well-known role, Emmich played the driver Chicago, who steered the Cadillac sedan with Rip Torn‘s hard-living honky tonk singer Maury Dann in the backseat, in Payday (1973).
In Michael Cimino‘s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), Emmich portrayed the Western Union security guard with a porn fetish who is attracted to the long-legged, dress-wearing Jeff Bridges. He played another security guard, one who falls victim to a hammer wielded by Michael Myers, in Halloween II (1981).
Emmich was at his best on the fifth season of NBC’s Little House on the Prairie as an overweight, shy and embarrassed middle-aged guy whose daughter is ashamed of him in the episode “The Man Inside.” Michael Landon wrote it with Emmich in mind, and it was one of the actor’s favorite roles.
Clifford Joseph Emmich was born in Cincinnati on Dec. 13, 1936, and raised in Los Angeles. His father, also named Clifford, sold exotic foreign cars to Hollywood luminaries that included Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Ozzie Nelson.
“Coop had this Duesenberg, and he used to go out with the ladies even though he was married,” Emmich recalled in a 2018 interview with Rob Word for A Word on Westerns. “He called my dad and said, ‘Cliff, I got the Duesy out in front, and I’m over at this girl’s house, and if all these gossip columnists in town find out about that car, they’ll know I’m upstairs. I got the keys under the front seat, so if you’ll come and get it and drive it over to the lot, I’ll come over and get it or send someone over to pick it up.’”
After graduating from John Muir High School in Pasadena and serving in the U.S. Air Force, Emmich studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse, toured with the American Repertory Players and did summer stock at the Pink Garter Theatre in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
He made his film debut with an uncredited role in Norman Jewison’s Gaily, Gaily (1969), starring Beau Bridges.
Later, Emmich played the counterfeiter known as “The Candy Man” on the two-part Happy Days episode “Fonzie’s Funeral” in 1979.
His résumé also included the films Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973), the Yvette Mimieux-starring Jackson County Jail (1976), Barracuda (1978), Hellhole (1985) and Digital Man (1995) and TV stints on everything from The Odd Couple, Ironside, The FBI, Starsky and Hutch and Night Court to Murder, She Wrote, Coach, Nash Bridges and Walker, Texas Ranger.
Survivors include his nephews, Chuck, Mark and James, and his niece, Shirley.
Word noted that Emmich “never missed a party, a lunch or an Academy screening. And he was always in a joyous mood, filled with wonderful memories of growing up in Hollywood and his acting exploits. He also had the biggest and most infectious laughter of anyone.”