A Tribute to James Coburn
With his strong physical presence, mellifluous voice, and great attitude, Coburn made the best of even mediocre scripts — and there were plenty among his 135 screen appearances. But there were also plenty of memorable moments.
After working as a stage actor in California, Coburn began his movie career in the late 50s in supporting roles, mostly as heavies. He then jumped to TV in 1960, with a couple of short-lived series, Klondike and Acapulco, before going back to the movies. Known mostly for his tough-guy roles in films such as The Magnificent Seven (1960), The Great Escape (1963), Our Man Flint (1966) (which briefly gave him status as a leading man), and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Coburn was equally adept at both action/adventure and comedy. He appeared in a supporting role as a doctor in Candy (1968), as an immigration officer in The Loved One (1965), and in the title role in 1967’s The President’s Analyst, a cult favorite of late, and a film he also produced.
In the 80s and 90s, Coburn suffered a battle with rheumatoid arthritis which severely restricted his career. (He appeared in only 8 films between 1983 and 1991.) He gave credit to deep tissue massage, electromagnetic treatments, and MSM or Methyl Sulfonyl Methane for his recovery. Whatever the truth about that, the fact is that he began working once again at a steady clip in the 1990s, appearing mostly in colorful elder supporting roles.
After being ignored by the Academy for most of his career, Coburn recently won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role in Affliction (1997), playing an abusive, alcoholic father. He reportedly said, when told by the director that his co-star, Nick Nolte, believed in strong preparation, “Oh, you mean you want me to really act? I can do that. I haven’t often been asked to, but I can.”
“Actors,” Coburn also once said, “are boring when they’re not working.” “Boring” is one thing James Coburn never was.
James Coburn Tributes/Pages
- All Movie Guide
- BBC News Obituary
- Internet Movie Database
- Interview from The Celtic Cafe
Where To Find Or See James Coburn Films
Selected Reviews of James Coburn’s Best Films
- The Magnificent Seven (1960) – Review by Anthony’s Film Review
- Charade (1963) – Review by Martin Madsen
- The Great Escape (1963) – Review by Sean Sweeney
Books by or about James Coburn