John Vernon, a stage-trained character actor who played cunning villains in film and TV and made his comedy mark as Dean Wormer in “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” has died. He was 72.
Vernon died at home in his sleep Tuesday following complications from Jan. 16 heart surgery, his daughter, Kate Vernon, said Thursday.
The Canadian-born actor found satisfaction in his varied career, his daughter said.
“He loved the comedy that he was able to do, but his training was in drama and he really enjoyed the dramatic roles,” she said.
Movie fans may know him best for his role in “Animal House” as Dean Wormer, who is bent on expelling the hard-partying Delta fraternity house. The movie, starring John Belushi and Tim Matheson, is one of the most popular comedies ever made.
Born in 1932 in Montreal, Vernon studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He did repertory work in England and was heard off-screen as the voice of Big Brother in the 1956 film “1984.”
He returned to Canada to appear on stage and on television, including the starring role in the 1960s drama “Wojeck,” in which he played a coroner.
“John was superb. He really knew how to use the camera, and vocally he was just born to have a mike nearby,” Ted Follows, his co-star in “Wojeck,” told The Canadian Press.
After appearing on Broadway in “Royal Hunt of the Sun” he became a steady player in U.S. films, making his debut in director John Boorman’s “Point Blank” (1967) as a turncoat tossed to his death by Lee Marvin.
Vernon went on to work with other celebrated filmmakers including Alfred Hitchcock (“Topaz,” 1969); Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry,” 1971), and Clint Eastwood (“The Outlaw Josey Wales,” 1976).
His deep, menacing voice was custom-made for the many bad guys he played.
He reprised his role in “National Lampoon’s Animal House” in the TV spinoff “Delta House” (1979). Other comedy roles followed, including the part of Mr. Big in the film “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” in 1988.
Vernon appeared in a DVD edition of “Animal House” as part of a satiric update on the characters. Wormer was portrayed as a curmudgeonly old man in a wheelchair.