William Smith, the iconic tough-guy actor in “Hawaii Five-O” and “Laredo,” died Monday at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills. He was 88.
His wife, Joanne Cervelli Smith, confirmed his passing to the Hollywood Reporter. The cause of death is unknown.
Smith was best known for his portrayal of Falconetti in the groundbreaking 1976 miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man.” The actor also fought in two of the most memorable brawls in cinematic history, going up against Clint Eastwood in 1980’s “Any Which Way You Can” and Rod Taylor in 1970’s “Darker Than Amber.”
Back in his heyday, the bodybuilder was a champion discus thrower at UCLA, an arm-wrestling and boxing champion and a martial arts black belt. He had 18-inch biceps and could do 5,100 continuous sit-ups and reverse-curl 163 pounds — all of which helped solidify the 6-foot-2-inch man as one of Hollywood’s legendary tough guys, along with the list of his 289 credits on Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com).
Smith began his long Hollywood career as a child actor in the ’40s, when his family moved to Southern California from the Dust Bowl. He left tinsel town for a bit when he enlisted in the Army to fight in the Korean War.
Returning to California, Smith continued working steadily throughout the ’60s and ’70s, becoming an obvious choice when casting cult hit biker films such as “Run, Angel, Run!,” “The Losers,” “Angels Die Hard,” “C.C. & Company,” “Chrome and Hot Leather,” “Gentle Savage” and “Eye of the Tiger.”
He played Texas Ranger Joe Riley in TV’s “Laredo” from 1965 to 1967, and later joined the original cast of “Hawaii Five-O” for its last season in 1980. Smith also was a part of the first miniseries broadcast on American television, “Rich Man, Poor Man.”
On the silver screen, Smith also acted in popular films. He played a general in the 1984 cult classic “Red Dawn,” speaking fluent Russian — which was only one of the six languages he spoke. He was in 1982’s “Conan the Barbarian” alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and had his last acting credit just last year as Hofbrau Bar Fly in 2020’s “Irresistible” with Steve Carell and Rose Byrne.
In 1970, he portrayed a sadistic bodybuilder in “Darker Than Amber,” and performed what is considered to be one of the most realistic on-screen fights, with Taylor famously breaking three of his ribs and getting his nose busted.
Ten years later, he made movie history again when he squared off against Eastwood in “Any Which Way You Can.” “It has to be one of the longest two-man fights ever done on film without doubles,” Smith said about the notorious scene.
Smith was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Bodybuilding and Fitness and inducted into the Muscle Beach Venice Bodybuilding Hall of Fame in 2010.
Along with his wife of 31 years, Smith is survived by his two children, William E. Smith III and Sherri Anne Cervelli.