Friday, February 04, 2005

The Late Dean Wormer
John Vernon, the smarmy Dean Wormer in the sophomoric cult movie "Animal House", died peacefully at his Los Angeles home Tuesday at the age of 72.
"With his pockmarked face and heavy-lidded blue eyes, Vernon proved to be the ideal villain in dozens of the 85 motion pictures he made over a four-decade career. But he started as a hero in Wojeck in which his character was based on real-life Toronto coroner and politician Dr. Morton Shulman and which formed the template for future forensics-based crime series, from Quincy to Da Vinci's Inquest to CSI.

"Everybody's seen my face but nobody's sure who I am," he once told an interviewer, revealing that he had often been mistaken for Richard Burton or Robert Shaw. "People confuse me with other people and I enjoy that."
He was seen most recently on the "double secret probation" DVD edition of Animal House, in a feature that offered a tongue-in-cheek current look at the characters of the 1978 film. Vernon's Dean Wormer was a crotchety, snowy-haired senior in a wheelchair.
Vernon attended London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and in London joined several repertory companies. His Broadway debut came in Royal Hunt of the Sun, and from there he moved to Hollywood for a prolific career playing all those heartless villains.

"The stars are always the good guys, so the guest stars have to be the bad guys," he said in a 1979 interview. "Even though I played a lot of heavies I was very lucky to work all the time, without getting pigeon-holed." " (from

Vernon, born in Regina, Saskatchewan, was your prototypical Canadian. Understated, underappreciated, of strong convictions,...and a hoot. For any of those folks out there who haven't seen "Animal House" (and for those who have), his performance was a treat; blustering ineffective malevolance with a dollop of over-the-top steam-blowing-out-one's-ears thrown in. Underneath all that villainy, his eyes were smirking.

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