James Harrison Coburn III (August 31, 1928 – November 18, 2002)a film and television actor. Coburn appeared in nearly 70 films and made over 100 television appearances during his 45-year career, and played a wide range of roles and won an Academy Award for his supporting role as Glen Whitehouse in Affliction.
A capable, rough-hewn leading man, his toothy grin and lanky body made him a perfect tough-guy in numerous leading and supporting roles in Westerns and action films, such as The Magnificent Seven, Hell Is for Heroes, The Great Escape, Major Dundee, Our Man Flint, Duck, You Sucker, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, and Cross of Iron.
During the late 1960's and early 1970's, he would cultivate an image synonymous with "Cool", and along with contemporaries such as Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson, became one of the prominent "tough-guy" actors of his day.
Coburn was born in Laurel, Nebraska, the son of Mylet S. (née Johnson) and James Harrison Coburn, Jr., who had a garage business that was wiped out by the Great Depression. Coburn was of Scots-Irish and Swedish descent. He was raised in Compton, California, attended Compton Junior College, and enlisted in the United States Army in 1950, serving as an Army truck driver and also was an occasional disc jockey on an Army radio station in Texas. Coburn also narrated Army training films in Mainz, Germany. He attended Los Angeles City College, where he studied acting alongside Jeff Corey and Stella Adler, then made his stage debut at the La Jolla Playhouse in Billy Budd. Coburn was selected for a Remington Products razor commercial when he was able to shave off eleven days of beard growth in less than 60 seconds, while joking that he had more teeth to show on camera than the other 12 candidates for the part
Coburn's film debut came in 1959 as the sidekick to bad guy Pernell Roberts in the Randolph Scott western Ride Lonesome. Coburn also appeared in dozens of television roles including, with Roberts, several episodes of Bonanza. He appeared at least twice on John Payne's NBC western The Restless Gun in episodes entitled "The Pawn" and "The Way Back", the latter with Bonanza's Dan Blocker. Coburn and Ralph Taeger co-starred with Joi Lansing in Klondike on NBC in the 1960–1961 season. When Klondike, set in the Alaskan gold rush town of Skagway, was cancelled, Taeger and Coburn were regrouped as detectives in Mexico in NBC's equally short-lived Acapulco.
Coburn became well known in the 1960s and the 1970s for his roles in several action and western films, first primarily with Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in two John Sturges films: The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. A villainous Texan in the hugely successful Charade (1963), a glib naval officer in The Americanization of Emily (1964) and a character role as a one-armed Indian tracker in Major Dundee (1965) gained him much notice. In 1966, Coburn became a bona fide star with the release of Our Man Flint, a James Bond spoof released by 20th Century Fox. In 1971, he starred in the western film Duck, You Sucker!, directed by Sergio Leone, as an Irish explosives expert and revolutionary who has fled to Mexico during the time of the Mexican Revolution in the early 20th Century. He teamed with director Sam Peckinpah for the 1973 film Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (they had worked together in 1965 on Major Dundee). An MGM producer tried to sabotage the production, causing the film to be drastically edited when it opened. Peckinpah and Coburn were greatly disappointed and turned next to Cross of Iron, a critically acclaimed war epic which performed poorly in the U.S. but was a huge hit in Europe. They remained close friends until Peckinpah's death on December 28, 1984. In 1973, Coburn was one of the featured celebrities, dressed in prison gear on the cover of the album Band On The Run made by Paul McCartney and his band Wings.
Coburn returned to television in 1978 to star in a three-part mini-series version of a Dashiell Hammett detective novel, The Dain Curse, tailoring his character to bear a physical resemblance to the author. Due to severe rheumatoid arthritis, Coburn appeared in very few films in the 1980s. Although his hands were visibly gnarled in film appearances within the final two decades of his career, Coburn continued working. He spent much of his time writing songs with British singer-songwriter Lynsey De Paul and doing television such as his work on Darkroom. He claimed to have healed himself with pills containing a sulfur-based compound.
Coburn returned to film in the 1990s, and appeared in supporting roles in Young Guns II, Hudson Hawk, Sister Act 2, Maverick, Eraser, The Nutty Professor, Affliction, and Payback. Coburn's performance in Affliction earned him an Academy Award, and also nominated for the Screen Actors Guild and the Independent Spirit Awards.
Coburn’s interest in fast cars began with his father’s garage business and continued throughout his personal life, as he exported rare cars to Japan. He's credited with turning Steve McQueen on to Ferraris, and in the early 1960s.
Coburn died of a heart attack on November 18, 2002 while listening to music in his Beverly Hills, California home.