Best James Coburn Western Roles and Biography



Born August 31, 1928, in Laurel, NE; died from a heart attack, November 18, 2002, in Beverly Hills, CA. Actor. James Coburn appeared in more than 80 films throughout his career. He was most often recognized for his gritty, masculine roles in films like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Major Dundee. His popularity waned in the 1970s, and in the 1980s he was sidelined by rheumatoid arthritis. Overcoming the crippling effects of arthritis, Coburn made a comeback in the 1990s, eventually earning an Academy Award for his performance in Affliction.Coburn grew up in Compton, California, where his family had moved after leaving Laurel, Nebraska. His first acting role came early, when he was four years old, playing Herod in a school play. In his teens, he worked in a movie theater performing various roles from janitor to ticket taker. From those inauspicious beginnings, he went on to study acting at Los Angeles City College and the University of Southern California. In the early 1950s, Coburn served in the military. Stationed in Texas, he worked as a public information officer.


In 1955, Coburn finished his military duty and promptly moved to New York where he studied acting with master teacher Stella Adler. His experience there included stage plays and appearances in episodes of the dramatic television series Studio One and General Electric Theatre. After a few years in New York, Coburn returned to Los Angeles where he continued to work in television. He had roles on Wagon Train, The Rifleman, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In 1959, Coburn made his film debut in Ride Lonesome. This taut, well–written, B–Western has earned a reputation as one of the best examples of the genre. Coburn turned in a memorable performance as Whit, a dim–witted outlaw seeking a pardon by helping to turn in a fugitive. That same year he had another supporting role in the minor Western Face of a Fugitive.

In 1960, Coburn became a star with his role in the classic Western directed by John Sturges, The Magnificent Seven. Appearing onscreen with superstars Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen, Coburn held his own as Britt, a knife–wielding mercenary. Even though he had only a few lines, Coburn exuded a cool menace as one of the seven men hired to protect a village from outlaws. Coburn went on to play roles in several other films directed by Sturges, including the World War II epic The Great Escape.

In 1966, Coburn starred in Our Man Flint, a satirical spoof of James Bond films. As the epitome of the suave super agent, Coburn used his lanky good looks, toothy grin, and baritone voice to play the ultra–cool Derek Flint. The film was wildly successful and was followed by a less successful sequel, In Like Flint. E! Online wrote of the film, “It was Coburn’s greatest hit, made him a full–blown pop–culture icon and proved that he could do funny as well as menace.”

Coburn’s career began to wane during the 1970s, although he continued to appear in films throughout the decade. In 1971, he played explosives expert Sean Mallory in Sergio Leone’s action film set in Mexico, A Fistful of Dynamite. In 1973, he portrayed the outlaw–turned–sheriff Pat Garrett in Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. As the decade progressed, Coburn was appearing in smaller roles in less important films so he tried his hand at directing and writing. In 1974, he directed episodes of The Rockford Files, the popular crime drama starring James Garner. He co–wrote the story for Circle of Iron with his friend, martial–arts expert Bruce Lee.

The onset of rheumatoid arthritis in the early 1980s almost sidelined Coburn. He continued to appear in movies and on television, but the crippling effects of the arthritis limited his roles to those in which he moved very little. He supplemented his income with voice work and appearances in commercials. Coburn, who had indulged a lifelong interest in eastern religions, yoga, and meditation, turned to alternative therapies to relieve his arthritis. Although his right hand was crippled, Coburn eventually conquered his arthritis through a combination of sulphur pills, diet, and exercise.

With his arthritis under control, Coburn made his comeback in the 1990s as a character actor. He appeared in Young Guns II, Hudson Hawk, Sister Act 2, and Maverick. He also made appearances on television. Even though he was working regularly, many of the roles were small and did not use Coburn to his fullest potential. The film Affliction, in which Coburn had a supporting role as Nick Nolte’s alcoholic father, gave Coburn a chance to shine. He earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1998 for his portrayal of Glen Whitehouse, a verbally and physically abusive man.

In the 2000s, Coburn continued to work hard. He made notable appearances on television and in film. He appeared in dramas such as Proximity, The Man from Elysian Fields, and his final film, released after his death, The American Gun. He was the voice of Henry J. Waternoose, III, in the successful computer–animated film Monsters, Inc. Continuing to show his less serious side, he also appeared in the 2002 comedy Snow Dogs.

Coburn married Beverly Kelly in 1959; they divorced in 1979. He married Paula Murad in 1993. Coburn died on November 18, 2002, of a heart attack while listening to music at home; he was 74. He is survived by his wife; his son, James; step-daughter, Lisa; and two grandchildren. His long career in acting took him from dramatic Westerns to comedic spoofs, and throughout it all he made it look easy. His manager Hillard Elkins told , “He was a guy who looked like he was casual, but he studied and he worked and he understood character.”

10.The Magnificent Seven

Dir. by John Sturges (1960), starring Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson & James Coburn

The Magnificent Seven is an American western film directed by John Sturges and starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach and Steve McQueen. The picture is an Old West-style remake of Akira Kurosawa’s.

A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die

Dir. by Tonino Valerii (1972), starring James Coburn, Telly Savalas & Bud Spencer

A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die is a 1972 Technicolor Italian spaghetti western movie starring James Coburn. Many exterior scenes were filmed at the Fort Bowie set built in the Province of Almería,.

Bite the Bullet

Dir. by Richard Brooks (1975), starring Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen & James Coburn

Bite the Bullet is a 1975 American Western film written and directed by Richard Brooks and starring Gene Hackman, James Coburn, Candice Bergen, Ben Johnson, Ian Bannen, Jan-Michael Vincent and Dabney..


Dir. by Steven Hilliard Stern (1984), starring Kirk Douglas, James Coburn & Linda Sorenson

Draw! is a 1984 American/Canadian comedy-western film by Steven Hilliard Stern..

Duck, You Sucker!

Dir. by Sergio Leone (1971), starring James Coburn, Rod Steiger & David Warbeck

Duck, You Sucker!, also known as A Fistful of Dynamite and Once Upon a Time… the Revolution, is a 1971 Italian epic buddy Zapata Western film directed by Sergio Leone. The film stars Rod Steiger and..

Face of a Fugitive

Dir. by Paul Wendkos (1959), starring James Coburn, Fred MacMurray & Paul E. Burns

Face of a Fugitive is a 1959 Western film directed by Paul Wendkos. It stars Fred MacMurray and Lin McCarthy and was based on the short story “Long Gone” by Peter Dawson, the nom de plume of Jonathan.

Major Dundee

Dir. by Sam Peckinpah (1965), starring Charlton Heston, Richard Harris & James Coburn

Major Dundee is a 1965 Western film directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Charlton Heston, Richard Harris, Jim Hutton, and James Coburn. Written by Harry Julian Fink, the film is about a Union…


Dir. by Richard Donner (1994), starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster & Corey Feldman

Maverick is a 1994 Western comedy film directed by Richard Donner and written by William Goldman, based on the 1950s television series of the same name created by Roy Huggins. The film stars Mel..

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Dir. by Sam Peckinpah (1973), starring Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson & James Coburn

This film is a 1973 American Western drama film directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, and Bob Dylan, and written by Rudy Wurlitzer. The film is about an aging..

Ride Lonesome

Dir. by Budd Boetticher (1959), starring James Coburn, Lee Van Cleef & Randolph Scott

Ride Lonesome is a 1959 Western film directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott, Karen Steele, Pernell Roberts, Lee Van Cleef, and James Coburn in his film debut. This Eastmancolor film..

The Cherokee Kid

Dir. by Paris Barclay (1996), starring Burt Reynolds, James Coburn & Mark Pellegrino

The Cherokee Kid is a 1996 HBO television film starring Sinbad, James Coburn, Burt Reynolds, Gregory Hines, A Martinez, Ernie Hudson, Dawnn Lewis and Vanessa Bell Calloway..

The Last Hard Men

Dir. by Andrew V. McLaglen (1976), starring Charlton Heston, James Coburn & Barbara Hershey

The Last Hard Men is a 1976 film directed by Andrew McLaglen…

Young Guns II

Dir. by Geoff Murphy (1990), starring Viggo Mortensen, Kiefer Sutherland & Christian Slater

Young Guns II is a 1990 western film, and the sequel to Young Guns. It stars Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christian Slater, and features William Petersen. It was written..


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