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Tom Towles, ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’ actor, dies at 65

Tom Towles, a Chicago-bred actor who co-starred in “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” and a string of esoteric horror films, has died at age 65, several websites reported Sunday.

“Very sad to learn of the passing of Tom Towles,” tweeted “Henry” star Michael Rooker. “He was a good man and a good friend.”

William Norris (left) and Tom Towles in “Warp.” | Sun-Times files
William Norris (left) and Tom Towles in “Warp.” | Sun-Times files
Sun-Times files

A Chicago native, he began his acting career on local stages and in 1971 was part of the original cast of the Organic Theatre’s acclaimed series of sci-fi plays “Warp.” His breakout film came in 1986 when he played Ottis, the sidekick of Rooker’s mass murderer in “Henry,” a role Roger Ebert later hailed as “unforgettable.” Based on the crimes of Henry Lee Lucas and shot by director John McNaughton on Lower Wacker Drive and in other grimy corners of Chicago, the movie didn’t reach theaters until 1989.

“It is a chilling film that — fair warning — will horrify many viewers and is intended to illuminate, not entertain,” Ebert wrote in reviewing the film the next year. “But it also is a very good film, a low-budget tour de force that provides an unforgettable portrait of the pathology of a man for whom killing is not a crime but simply a way of passing time and relieving boredom.”

Henry (Michael Rooker) and Ottis (Tom Towles) visit a guy selling stolen TV’s (Ray Atherton) in “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” | Sun-Times files
Henry (Michael Rooker) and Ottis (Tom Towles) visit a guy selling stolen TV’s (Ray Atherton) in “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” | Sun-Times files

Mr. Towles went on to play one of the zombie-fleeing humans trapped in a farmhouse in the 1990 remake of “Night of the Living Dead” and a deer hunter whose head is borrowed by an alien in McNaughton’s “The Borrowers” (1991). Later film credits included “Mad Dog and Glory” (1993), “The Rock” (1996), “Miami Vice” (2006) and “Grindhouse” (2007).

He was a favorite of rocker-director Rob Zombie, who cast him in films including “House of 1000 Corpses” (2003), “The Devil’s Rejects” (2005) and “Halloween” (2007). A Sunday Instagram post by Zombie called Mr. Towles “a nice funny guy.”

On TV, Mr. Towles appeared on six episodes of “NYPD Blue” and had guest spots on “Seinfeld,” “ER” and “Firefly.”