Joe Turkel, the Spectral Bartender in ‘The Shining,’ Dies at 94
Joe Turkel, a gaunt-faced yeoman character actor who appeared in scores of movies but is best known for two of his final performances — as Lloyd the bartender in “The Shining” and Dr. Eldon Tyrell in “Blade Runner” — died on June 27 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 94.
His son Craig Turkel said the death, at a hospital, was caused by liver failure.
Mr. Turkel (pronounced ter-KELL) was a favorite among directors looking for someone who could bring zealous professionalism to even the smallest role.
In movies like “Hellcats of the Navy” (1957) and “The Sand Pebbles” (1966), he held his own alongside leading men like Ronald Reagan and Steve McQueen. It was often up to Mr. Turkel to provide a subtle but unmistakable plot pivot, using his steely onscreen demeanor and perfectly delivered lines to shift a film’s entire mood.
Nowhere was that more true than in the three movies he made for Stanley Kubrick, with whom he formed something of a mutual admiration society. Both men, who were about the same age, had grown up as working-class secular Jews in New York. Both were huge baseball fanatics. And both were perfectionists about their work.
Mr. Turkel had a small role in “The Killing,” Mr. Kubrick’s 1956 film about a racetrack robbery, and then returned a year later as a condemned soldier in “Paths of Glory.” In both films, he contrasted a stony stillness with sudden explosions of manic action to convey meaning far beyond his few brief lines.
He went on to become a prolific television actor, with roles on popular shows like “Bonanza,” “Ironside” and “Fantasy Island.”
He returned to Mr. Kubrick’s service in 1980 for “The Shining,” an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. The story revolves around an author, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), who is hired as the winter caretaker of the secluded, otherwise empty Overlook Hotel and moves there with his family.
Under the influence of malevolent supernatural forces, Jack slowly goes crazy. At one point he enters the hotel’s bar, where he finds Lloyd, played by Mr. Turkel. Jack asks for a bourbon, and Lloyd pours him a shot of Jack Daniel’s.
Mr. Nicholson dominates their conversation, but it is Mr. Turkel’s ominously stoic presence that shifts the film into a darker register.
“In dress and demeanor, he’s the prototypical old-school hotel barman,” Mr. Turkel told The Toronto Star in 2014. “He obviously takes pride in his work and the corruption he enables; most bartenders are stylish and a little bit evil. Poor Lloyd doesn’t know the difference between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, though.”
Joseph Turkel was born on July 15, 1927, in Brooklyn. His father, Benjamin Turkel, was a tailor, and his mother, Gazella (Goldfisher) Turkel, was a homemaker and part-time opera singer.
Along with his son Craig, Mr. Turkel is survived by another son, Robert; his brother, David; and two grandchildren. His wife, Anita (Cacciatore) Turkel, died before him.
He joined the U.S. merchant marine in 1944 and the Army in 1946. After receiving an honorable discharge, he briefly returned to New York for acting classes before heading to Hollywood in 1947.
His first credited role was in “City Across the River” (1949), a film about a program for juvenile delinquents that also featured a young Tony Curtis.
His work on “The Shining” brought him to the attention of Ridley Scott, who was casting “Blade Runner,” his adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”
He was cast as Dr. Tyrell, the brilliant but haughty founder of a company that produces robots so perfect that they blur the line between human and machine — an uncanniness that leads to Dr. Tyrell’s bloody demise at the hands of one of his creations.
Although “Blade Runner” has become one of the most critically acclaimed science fiction films in history, it was originally a box-office dud. Mr. Turkel, having grown tired of grinding through auditions after decades in Hollywood, decided to retire; aside from a few more small TV and film roles, he never acted again.
Instead he tried his hand at screenplays (although none of them were produced), became a regular on the fan-convention circuit and wrote a memoir, “The Miseries of Success,” which remains unpublished.
“I’ve done some great films,” he told an interviewer for Blade Zone, a “Blade Runner” fan site, in 1999. “I know other actors that have done brilliant films. They still have to go out and audition and meet the producer, director, and please these people no matter what they’ve done. Of course the great big stars don’t do that. But there are great quality actors that do that and they find it demeaning.”
Still, he added, “I’ve had a hell of a career.”