2015 is still young, and we’ve already lost too many legends of the silver screen, such as Leonard Nimoy (Spock from STAR TREK), Louis Jourdan (Kamal Kahn in OCTOPUSSY; Anton Arcane in SWAMP THING), Rod Taylor (THE BIRDS, THE TIME MACHINE), Donna May (Ellie May Clampett from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES), and dozens of others. Now we can sadly add one more to this year’s list, namely cult movie actor Robert Z’Dar.
Born on June 3rd, 1950, Robert Z’Darsky proved to be a jack of all trades. He played football for Arizona State University, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He was briefly a member of Chicago’s police force, a Chippendale’s dancer, and was even part of a rock group called Nova Express. Needless to say, before he broke into acting, Z’Dar had already accomplished quite a lot in his lifetime.
A victim of cherubism, Robert had a face you couldn’t forget, which helped him land numerous roles in film and television. (Typically as a bad guy.) Starting with Joe Tornatore’s CODE NAME: ZEBRA, Z’Dar would go on to rack up well over a hundred screen credits.
Though he’s been featured in mainstream films like TANGO & CASH (alongside Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell) and MOBSTERS, it was Z’Dar’s role as Matt Cordell in MANIAC COP that would propel him to cult status. MANIAC COP was my first exposure to Z’dar, and I fell in love with the movie after watching it on a battered VHS tape.
The film’s antagonist was a veritable “super cop,” that was getting too close to the crooks in city hall. They framed Cordell, railroaded him through a fixed trial, and finally placed him in prison with the scum that he had sent there. Attacked, and supposedly murdered by the inmates, Cordell returned years later to don his uniform once again, but this time as a villain. He goes on a campaign of terror and vengeance, attempting to discredit the police force, and draw out those responsible for ruining his life.
The film captivated me, and I found myself feeling sorry for the main character, who is technically the bad guy. Although Matt Cordell is a hulking brute that is murdering innocent people, he’s been given the rawest of deals by those he faithfully served. Once a hero, and now a societal outcast, Cordell’s tale is a tragic one.
Though I enjoyed Robert’s work in the MANIAC COP trilogy, it wasn’t until I saw him pop up on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 twice that I truly became a diehard Z’Dar fan. FUTURE WAR, which features Robert as a “futuristic cyborg,” and SOULTAKER, where he plays an angel of death, quickly became two of my favorite episodes. I became so obsessed with these particular MST3K installments, that I actually went out of my way to grab “unriffed” copies of both films, and God help me, I watched them.
In 2014, Robert Z’Dar, and longtime friend (and SOULTAKER co-star) Joe Estevez were special guests at Scare-A-Con, a horror convention located in Verona, NY. I had planned a day trip to visit the event and meet them both, but my plans fell through. A distinct lack of money was the main issue, but in retrospect, I should have just gone anyway. I could have borrowed the dough, or sold something, or just skipped paying the cable bill. But I didn’t, and now failing to meet the one and only “Maniac Cop” is now one of my biggest regrets.
Robert Z’Dar was taken from us all too soon, but his legacy will live on through the characters he portrayed in film and on TV. Even though I never met the man, or knew him personally, I am going to miss him. Perhaps one day, I’ll finally get the chance to meet Robert after I eventually shuffle off this mortal coil myself.
My deepest condolences go out to all of Robert’s family members, friends, and fellow actors. While I may have personally lost a cinematic icon, you have lost so much more.
REST IN PEACE ROBERT. YOU WILL BE MISSED.