The Daily Telegraph

Actor best known for the action classic Assault on Precinct 13

- Austin Stoker, October 7 1930, died October 7 2022

AUSTIN STOKER, who has died aged 92, was an actor best known for his role as a Los Angeles cop, Lt Ethan Bishop, who finds himself under siege in a recently abandoned police station in John Carpenter’s 1976 action film Assault on Precinct 13.

A modern-day retelling of Howard Hawks’s classic Western Rio Bravo, shot in 20 days on a micro-budget of $100,000, the film was badly marketed in the US

– as a violent gorefest rather than a taut thriller – and was an initial critical and box-office disappoint­ment.

But it was fast-paced, gritty and atmospheri­c, and when it was shown at the London Film Festival in 1977 it was extravagan­tly praised and became a cult classic, showcasing as it did a substantia­l role for a black actor in a non-blaxploita­tion film; one critic described Stoker’s performanc­e as “intelligen­t, dignified and distinguis­hed”.

In fact, the blaxploita­tion genre had helped Stoker to get his big-screen career up and running: in 1974 he had played policemen in Abby and Combat Cops, and in 1975 he was Pam Grier’s boyfriend in Sheba, Baby.

He was born on October 7 1930 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He discovered his talent for performing while taking part in Carnival, and joined a local theatre group at 16; four years later he was recruited as a dancer and percussion­ist by the Geoffrey Holder Dance Group, which took him to New York (“I had dreams of starring in the West End,” he once said).

With two other Holder alumni, Stoker played steel drums in the Broadway musical House of Flowers

(1954-55), written by Truman Capote and Harold Arlen. When Capote heard Stoker and his colleagues playing, he exclaimed: “Harold, you have to write something for these boys to play on their lovely drums!”

During the run Stoker got together with a singer in the show, Enid Mosier (who also worked as Vivian Bonnell) – his future wife – and he and his compatriot­s formed Enid Mosier & Her Trinidad Steel Band. They made two albums and toured North America for a couple of years – until Stoker, who had taken US citizenshi­p, was drafted into the army.

Having done his military duty, Stoker trained at the HB Studio in New York, and worked mostly in the theatre until the 1970s, when he began picking up parts in television series such as Mccloud and Kojak.

In 1973 he was right-hand man to Roddy Mcdowall’s primate Caesar in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and two years later he voiced the character of Jeff Allen on the animated TV series Return to the Planet of the Apes. He was a policeman in Horror High and an air force sergeant in Airport 1975

before his finest hour and a half in Assault on Precinct 13.

Though he had broken new ground as a black hero in a mainstream movie, Stoker’s subsequent career was industriou­s without hitting the heights. He made three appearance­s in The Six Million Dollar Man (1975-77) and had a small part in Roots

(1977). In the 1980s he appeared in such shows as Cagney & Lacey and Trapper John, MD, and in the early 1990s he was in eight episodes of the soap The Bold and the Beautiful.

He carried on working in theatre, appearing in such production­s as The Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello (in which he played Iago) and The Boys in the Band, and he held regular acting and voice workshops. His last role was a cameo as a reverend in the comedy Give Till it Hurts (2022).

Austin Stoker’s first marriage, to Vivian Bonnell, ended in divorce, and he is survived by his second wife of more than 40 years, Robin, along with two daughters.

 ?? ?? Stoker as Lt Bishop, under attack in an abandoned police station
Stoker as Lt Bishop, under attack in an abandoned police station

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom