As news of the death of Dick Miller was breaking yesterday, screenwriter Larry Karaszewski tweeted, “Right now, God is in heaven saying, ‘Hey—it’s that guy! You know—what’s his name?’” It’s a variation of a joke that follows scores of character actors throughout their careers, but in the case of Miller, who turned ninety this past Christmas Day, it was such a ubiquitous utterance any time he appeared on screen that when Elijah Drenner made a documentary about him in 2014, he practically had no choice but to call it That Guy Dick Miller.
Miller had a dozen or so film and television credits to his name—and he’d eventually rack up nearly 200—when Roger Corman cast him in the lead role of his 1959 horror comedy A Bucket of Blood. Miller’s Walter Paisely, a character Miller would periodically revive as a sort of inside joke, starts out as a busboy, not terribly sharp, who stumbles into success as a sculpture when his plaster-covered corpses become a cause célèbre in the art world. Reviewing the film for Not Coming to a Theater Near You in 2013, Jonathan Foltz called it “a gruesome satire of beatnik hipsterism that scorns the romance of being an ‘Artist’ simply by showing the absurdity, and the menace, of taking art seriously to begin with.”
Miller worked with Corman in over forty films and worked alongside Jack Nicholson in The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and The Terror (1963), a film that, for RogerEbert.com’s Odie Henderson, “has one of my favorite Miller moments, where he recounts for Nicholson the entire plot of the movie so that the audience can catch up with its extremely confusing, barely coherent narrative.” Miller “was able to take what was written and reach the deepest depths of the character while still injecting humor into each role,” Corman tweeted last night. “I will remember the brilliance of his acting talent, but more importantly his humanity and kindness as a friend.”