Rogues, Rebels and Wrong-doers – Remembering Steven Keats (1945–1994)

Posted in Remember by - February 19, 2015
Rogues, Rebels and Wrong-doers – Remembering Steven Keats (1945–1994)

A Vietnam veteran from the Bronx, the terrific cult actor Steven Keats often played characters on the edge of society or the wrong side of the law. A versatile performer who also worked on stage, he gave a realism to many of his parts and appeared in some of the best movies from the 1970’s, co-starring with cult stars including Robert Mitchum, Charles Bronson and Robert Shaw.

Born in New York on February 6th, 1945, Keats graduated from Manhattan’s High School for Performing Arts, before serving in the Air Force from 1965 to ’66. Later, Steven studied drama for a while before making his stage debut in a 1970 production of ‘Oh! Calcutta’.

Keats made an impressive movie debut in Peter Yates’ superb drama ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ (’73), as gunrunner Jackie Brown (did Tarantino take note?). He was fantastic in this crucial and laid-back role, and it remains the part I mostly associate Steven with. The following year saw him in Michael Winner’s controversial crowd-pleaser ‘Death Wish’ (’74), as Charles Bronson’s weak-willed son-in-law. A lead role came next with ‘Hester Street’ (’75) as a Jewish immigrant, and it was one of his best performances, playing the philandering husband of Carol Kane’s stay-at-home wife. A couple of entertaining action flicks followed; ‘The Gumball Rally’, as a Dodge Polara driver, and supporting James Coburn and Susannah York in the kidnap thriller ‘Sky Riders’ (‘both ’76).

After supporting Richard Boone’s billionaire big game hunter, in the mildly entertaining ‘The Last Dinosaur’ (’77), Steven was nominated for an Emmy award for his outstanding turn as the ruthless Jay Blackman in the all-star mini-series ‘Seventh Avenue’ (’77). An exciting movie followed with John Frankenheimer’s political thriller ‘Black Sunday’, memorably playing Robert Shaw’s Israeli sidekick. Based on the novel by Thomas Harris, it told the story of a terrorist group who plan to blow up a Goodyear blimp which is floating over the Super Bowl stadium, which has the US President in attendance.

After co-starring in the little seen Jeff Bridges comedy ‘The American Success Company’ (’80), Keats was a doctor who has his neck broken in the Chuck Norris sci-fi horror ‘Silent Rage’ (’82). That same year Steven appeared as a Hollywood filmmaker in the acclaimed TV movie ‘The Executioner’s Song’, then had a fun role of Thomas Edison in an episode of the popular family adventure series ‘Voyagers!’ (’82). Apart from hamming it up in the mediocre Timothy Hutton flick ‘Turk 182!’ (’85), the next few years saw Keats appear solely in television, guest starring in many popular series including ‘Magnum, P.I.’ ‘Moonlighting’ and ‘The Fall Guy’. Keats ended the decade with minor roles in the un-erotic Tracy Scoggins thriller ‘In Dangerous Company’ (’88), and the dire adventure ‘The Spring’ (’89), starring Dack Rambo and Shari Shattuck. After a brief bit in the Jon Voight dud ‘Eternity’ (’90) and more television work, Keats final appearance came in the direct-to-video clunker ‘Vibrations’ (’96) with Christina Applegate, which was released 2 years after his death.

Sadly, on May 8th 1994, Steven was found dead in his apartment from a suspected suicide. He was only 49 years old. Married three times and a father of two sons, Steven Keats was a multi-talented actor, able to completely immerse himself into some complex characters. It’s a shame his talents were only explored for a short while, but in a handful of memorable productions he truly gave the impression that he had inhabited his characters for years. An actor truly deserving of cult status.

Favourite Movie: The Friends of Eddie Coyle
Favourite Performance: The Friends of Eddie Coyle

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2 Comments on "Rogues, Rebels and Wrong-doers – Remembering Steven Keats (1945–1994)"

  • Jimmy

    Nice tribute to an actor always welcomed when he popped up in something. I wonder why he took his own life….

    • admin

      Thank you. His death was ruled ‘apparent suicide’, so not definite I guess. But yes, he was always worth watching.

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