by Lisa M. A. Winters, with Gary DaBaum
Miguel Ferrer died Thursday, January 19, of throat cancer. He was 61. The eldest of five children, he was the son of legendary actors Jose Ferrer and Rosemary Clooney, and a cousin of actor George Clooney.
Miguel Ferrer was not just a Hollywood scion, was not just a talented actor both in and out of genre productions and a musician, he was one of “us” – a fan of comics and science fiction. He may have been one of the first to not only grow up in fandom, but delight in making it deliberately part of his career.
Ferrer and his cousin George Clooney (George’s father is Ferrer’s mother’s brother) would play with superhero figures as boys; one can only imagine the conversation years later when George told his old playmate that he was going to get to play The Batman on screen. Ferrer’s comics fandom got to take a slightly different tack, as he co-wrote the limited series Comet Man with Bill Mumy, drawn by Kelley Jones, and published by Marvel Comics, in 1987.
His first TV acting job at the age of 26 was playing the younger version of his own father, José Ferrer, in flashbacks for the Magnum, P.I. episode “Lest We Forget” in 1981. Even though actors rarely have a great range of choice in work at this stage in their careers, Magnum, P.I. skirted the edge of science fiction and fantasy often enough during its run to make this appearance seem almost oracular in hindsight.
He did have a role in the short lived remake of The Bionic Woman as Jonas Bledsoe, but his first real SF job was as the First Officer and Helmsman on the misfortuned USS Excelsior in 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. He had various roles on TV and film before getting the 1987 role that would etch him in the memories of many — rapacious young executive Bob Morton in the SF classic Robocop.
Miguel Ferrer was reeeeeeally underrated in Robocop. The role of Bob Morton is frankly this close to being an afterthought. Morton is a foil for the two Big Bads and only speaks in MBA buzzwords, sports metaphors and curses, unless he’s clunkily threatening Detroit cops with the worst 80s computer jargon this side of Tron.
Ferrer took that thankless role, that cog in the screenplay, and made Bob Morton a real, living person and an unforgettable presence in the film.
Ferrer himself said, when prompted for his favorite role on a Hallmark Channel interview, ‘That movie really changed my whole life … all of a sudden I was working. Breaks do happen.’
In 1988, he was cast as a cyborg partnering a U.S. Marshal in a George Miller-directed SF TV pilot, Badlands 2005, already showing his predilection for genre roles.
Shortly after that, Ferrer had 4th billing in DeepStar Six in 1989, a movie which likely owes its existence to James Cameron’s The Abyss from the same year.
In 1990, however, he had his next landmark role: FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Rosenfield was sarcastic, brilliant and a complete scene-stealer.
Ferrer ably delivered unabashedly harsh dialogue in a manner that reflected at an underlying sense of humor and with such charisma that Albert is often cited as a Twin Peaks favorite character.
Around that same time, legendary TV writer-producer Stephen J. Cannell cast him as the lead in one of his rare failed TV series, Broken Badges. Ferrer’s Jack Bowman formed and lead a team of police officers all on psychiatric leave — a very Cannellian ‘team of misfits’ — for this action-comedy that only lasted seven episodes.
1992 saw Ferrer following up with David Lynch in On the Air, playing another rapacious (but funny!) executive; and reprising Albert Rosenfield in the feature film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Ferrer was a Randall Flagg ally, Lloyd Henreid, in 1994’s Stephen King miniseries, The Stand.
Ferrer returned to comic books in 1997… sort of. He played a Weather Wizard-based character in the infamous Justice League of America TV movie, a film so bad that almost all copies have been erased from existence.
This certainly had nothing to do with the start of his respectable career as a voice actor, although he voiced a guest villain in Men in Black: The Series soon after, in The Take No Prisoners Syndrome. His most notable voice credit, again as a villain, would come as Shan-Yu in 1998’s Mulan. His deep and gravelly tones evoked Shan-Yu’s relentlessness even more than any of the ‘tells’ in his animated form.
Ferrer voiced several characters for the Timmverse Superman: Aquaman, De’Cine of Almerac (Maxima’s rival) and once again, the Weather Wizard. He voiced Tarakudo (Shadowkhan King) in Jackie Chan Aventures in 2003-2004, and unsurprisingly ‘appeared’ on Robot Chicken.
In Justice League: New Frontier, he was the voice of The Martian Manhunter. In Young Justice, he provided the voice of Vandal Savage. In Adventure Time, he had the recurring role of Death. He also recorded the voice for an as yet unnamed character in the upcoming DC Animated Film, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract.
His next fan-favorite role, although not as striking as Albert Rosenfield, also dealt with forensic sciences: Dr. Garret Macy on Crossing Jordan, from 2001-2007, head of the Boston Medical Examiner’s office.
Sinestro, J’onn J’onzz and Silvermane have alternated with mystery and crime TV shows… and even a police dog in the Beverly Hills Chihuahua movies — something of a cross between both major aspects of his acting career.
Since 2010, he’s been Vandal Savage, the Vice President in Iron Man 3, and in what might be karmic justice, returned to both a Bellisario-inspired TV series and Twin Peaks as some of his last work. Ferrer joined NCIS: Los Angeles, his first episode airing in January of its 3rd season, to act as a sinister and unpredictable counterpoint for group leader ‘Hetty’ Lange. He also completed at least one episode of the Twin Peaks revival returning as Albert Rosenfield.
Talking about Miguel Ferrer’s life would not be complete, however, without at least mentioning his music. He took great pride and delight in his drumming and singing; it got him gigs with Keith Moon and T Bone Burnett, and he played with writing partner Bill Mumy in The Jenerators for years. As a studio musician, he toured with his mother and Bing Crosby. He played the drums on Keith Moon’s album, Two Sides Of The Moon.
Ferrer is survived by his wife, Lori; sons, Lukas and Rafi; and several brothers and sisters. Miguel Ferrer was a great talent, and someone who will be missed. He was described as a man of tremendous talent who had a powerful dramatic presence on screen, a wicked sense of humor, and a huge heart.
“Today history will mark giant changes in our world, and lost to most will be that on the same day Miguel Ferrer lost his battle to throat cancer. But not lost to his family, Miguel made the world brighter and funnier and his passing is felt so deeply in our family that events of the day, (monumental events), pale in comparison. We love you Miguel. We always will.” — George Clooney.