'Waltons,' 'Die Hard 2' Actor Was 86

Tom Bower, the busy character actor who portrayed Dr. Curtis Willard on The Waltons and the janitor, Marvin, who helps John McClane foil the terrorists at the airport in Die Hard 2, has died. He was 86.

Bower died last week of an unknown cause at his home in Los Angeles, his brother, Robert Bower, told The Hollywood Reporter.

Bower worked on John Cassavetes’ directorial debut, Shadows (1957), and played one of the translators that make a mess of things in the acclaimed Western The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982), starring Edward James Olmos.

He portrayed the father of the 37th U.S. president in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995), starring Anthony Hopkins, and the father of Nicolas Cage‘s Terence McDonagh in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009).

And, he appeared for director Scott Cooper in Crazy Heart (2009) — as the agent of Jeff Bridges‘ Bad Blake — and Out of the Furnace (2013) and for director Ed Harris in Pollock (2000) and Appaloosa (2008).

More recently, he played Bob Odenkirk’s dad on the AMC series Lucky Hank.

After guest-starring as the pilot Rex Barker on The Waltons‘ fourth-season episode “The Wing Walker” in 1975, Bower became a regular castmember the following season when Curt arrives in Walton’s Mountain to replace Dr. Vance (Victor Izay). He hires Mary Ellen Walton (Judy Norton) to be his nurse, and the two quickly marry and eventually have a son.

Bower was written off the Earl Hamner Jr.-created CBS series in 1978 when Curt is apparently killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. On a 1981 episode, however, Curt shows up alive in Florida, only now he’s played by Scott Hylands.

In a 2022 interview with Norton, Bower explained what happened behind the scenes.

“I asked for a very small raise, so they sent me to Pearl Harbor,” he said with a laugh. “Then, when they decided to bring the character back, washed up on a shore somewhere — which I didn’t think was a great idea anyway — I asked for the same small raise. … They just cast a different actor.”

From left: Tom Bower, Judy Norton, Richard Thomas, Kami Cotler, Ellen Corby and Will Geer in 1977 on The Waltons.


Ralph Thomas Bower was born in Denver on Jan. 3, 1938. When he realized he wasn’t good enough to be a professional baseball player, he came to New York and enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1956.

“I started acting with more of a purpose while still in high school, and I guess when I chose a senior play over my senior season of baseball, the die was cast,” he said in 2012.

He also studied acting at the John Cassavetes Shadows Workshop, and after Shadows, he spent 15 years as a private investigator.

While still a P.I. in 1972, Bower was cast in David Rabe’s The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel opposite Al Pacino, who would go on to win a Tony Award when the drama made it to Broadway in 1977.

Bower then moved to Los Angeles to take up full-time acting again and appeared on episodes of Get Christie Love!, The Rockford Files and Kojak before landing on The Waltons.

The actor got invited to the first Sundance Institute film lab in 1981, and that led to his turn as Boone Choate, whose poor Spanish skills leads to a Mexican American farmer killing a sheriff and sending him on the run in Robert M. Young‘s Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, shot on a tiny budget for PBS.

In Die Hard 2 (1990), Bower’s Marvin lives in the basement of Dulles International Airport, and the big band-loving janitor and Bruce Willis‘ McClane got to share some great scenes in the Renny Harlin-directed sequel.

Bower stayed busy in his later years, doing excellent work in Two Ways Home (2019), Senior Love Triangle (2019), El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019), Fully Realized Humans (2020) and Raymond & Ray (2022).

His film résumé also included Two-Minute Warning (1976), Wildrose (1984), River’s Edge (1986), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), True Believer (1989), Raising Cain (1992), The Ballad of Little Jo (1993), Clear and Present Danger (1994), Hearts in Atlantis (2001), High Crimes (2002), North Country (2005), The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and The Killer Inside Me (2010).

He was a huge supporter of SAG and the Syracuse International Film Festival.

Survivors include his children, Viveca and Rob, and his sister, Shirley. His wife, Ursula, who spent 40 years with the Los Angeles law firm Buchalter, Nemer, Fields & Younger, died a couple years ago.

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