Strother Martin, a character actor whose best-known role was the
prison warden in "Cool Hand Luke," is dead at age 61.
Martin died of a heart attack Friday at Los Robles Regional Medical
Center in his hometown of Thousand Oaks, 40 miles northwest of Los
It was Martin's sneery line to Paul Newman and other prisoners --
"What we have here is a failure to communicate" -- that most film fans
remember about his role in "Cool Hand Luke."
During his 30 years in films, Martin also appeared in "True Grit" and
"Rooster Cogburn" with John Wayne, "Shenandoah" with James Stewart,
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" with Newman and Robert Redford,
"Slap Shot," again with Newman and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"
with Wayne and Stewart.
"I had great admiration for Strother," Stewart said Friday. "He loved
his work and he was good at it. His acting had the kind of spirit that
made scenes come alive. He made a great contribution to his profession
and he will be missed."
Martin was born March 23, 1919, in Kokomo, Ind. He is survived by his
wife, Helen. They had no children.
Martin had been under a doctor's care for heart problems for the past
year, said Walter Carroll, the Ventura County deputy coroner.
After his role in "Cool Hand Luke," Martin was given a leading role as
the scientist in the science fiction thriller "Ssssssss" in 1972, the
story of a man transformed into a king cobra snake.
A World War II veteran, Martin also earned a degree in speech and
drama from the University of Michigan. He moved to Hollywood after the
war, and made a living teaching swimming and diving while acting with
the Morgan Theatre Company.
In his first professional acting job, he played a leprechaun on a Los
Angeles-based kiddie television show, "Mable's Fables." His first
movie role followed -- a silent part in "The Asphalt Jungle," a 1950
movie which also marked the acting debut of Marilyn Monroe.
Martin then gained regular employment in television, appearing on such
Westerns as "Have Gun, Will Travel," and "Gunsmoke."
His brother, Dewey Martin, also was in several films including "The
Big Sky" in 1952.