Legendary movie stuntman dies at 66

The Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Bobby Bass, veteran motion picture and television stuntman considered a legend in Hollywood for his feats in the guise of such bigger-than-life actors as John Wayne and Sylvester Stallone, has died. He was 65.

Bass died Wednesday in Los Angeles after suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Some stuntmen specialize in fistfights, explosions or car crashes and race driving, but Bass did them all, and intricate martial arts, too. In 1986, he shared a Stunt Man Award for best vehicular stunt for his work in "To Live and Die in L.A."

Bass performed stunts in more than 40 films, including "Smokey and the Bandit" and its sequels and "Independence Day," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Scarface." He also served as stunt coordinator or assistant director for about 30 other films, including "Sharky’s Machine," "Lethal Weapon," "Black Rain," "Tequila Sunrise" and "Rocky V."

Sometimes he did both, coordinating and then performing the stunts, as in "Thelma and Louise."

For fight scenes, he helped popularize such barroom tactics as the head butt, used to effect in "Lethal Weapon," the 1987 humorous action cop film.

"I think I dusted it off and gave it to Mel Gibson," Bass explained the disabling maneuver for an interviewer in 1992. "After that you started seeing it."

Bass taught another celluloid cop, Michael Douglas, to use the head butt in a scene for "Black Rain" in which Douglas’ character matched skulls with Japanese thugs.

While Bass set trends in the stunt industry, he also worked to foster safer working conditions. He was dating Heidi von Beltz when the stuntwoman was paralyzed in 1980 during a stunt-car crash on the set of "Cannonball Run." Two years later came the fatal on-the-set helicopter crash that killed actor Vic Morrow and two children in "Twilight Zone: The Movie."

The two accidents, among the worst in movie history, prompted far stricter oversight of stunt work on all sets. As a coordinator and stuntman, Bass was front and center.

"As far as the stunt coordinators doing more, I think everybody is really checking in their footsteps," he said in 1987. "There is a little more intensity, because you can’t turn your back on these incidents. We have learned from these dreadful things, and we’d be fools to say we didn’t."

Reforms, including reactivation of an industrywide safety council and stronger safety requirements in Screen Actors Guild contracts, produced quick results. On-the-set accidents decreased annually and steadily from 214 in 1982 to 65 in 1986.

Athletic and creative into his 60s, Bass still was doing rough-and-tumble stunts through the late 1990s in action fare including "Eraser" in 1996, "Batman and Robin" in 1997, "Desperate Measures" in 1998 and "End of Days" in 1999.

When Bass wasn’t performing the tricks of his trade, he was teaching weapons handling or martial arts or fisticuffs to film stars including Burt Reynolds, Danny Glover, Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon and Kathleen Turner.

Rarely credited in his own name as a stuntman (a rare exception was in "The Perfect Weapon" in 1991), Bass was credited for minor roles as an actor in some films and television series.

His family said funeral services will be private.

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