John Gavin, ‘Psycho’ Actor & Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador To Mexico, Dies At 86
John Gavin, Psycho actor, has died at age 86. His death was confirmed by Budd Burton Moss, the manager of Gavin’s wife, actress Constance Towers. A cause of death was not specified.
JOHN GAVIN DIES AT 86
Gavin began his acting career in a handful of B-movies in the 1950s before landing his first lead role for A Time to Love and a Time to Die in 1958. Gavin was 6-foot-4, and was occasionally referred to as “the next Rock Hudson.” He won the Golden Globe that year for the Most Promising New Actor. “He is handsome,” wrote Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper at the time, “and has a silken sort of threat which gives women little chills up and down the spine.”
Despite that success, poor reviews flooded in for both the film and its leading man, but Universal Studios didn’t lose faith in Gavin. They next starred him opposite Lana Turner in the remake of Imitation of Life in 1959. It was the next year that he landed the role of Sam Loomis in Alfred Hitchcock’s pioneering thriller Psycho, though his performance was overshadowed by those of Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins.
Over the following few years, Gavin acted in a slew of films, including Spartacus with the main role of Julius Caesar. He also acted opposite Susan Hayward in Back Street, opposite Sandra Dee in Romanoff and Juliet and opposite Dee again in Tammy Tell Me True.
By the end of the 1960s, Gavin’s acting career began to wane, with the exception of a minor role in the 1967 musical Thoroughly Modern Millie starring Julie Andrews. He was slated to be the next James Bond in Diamonds are Forever in 1971, before the original Sean Connery was offered a hefty salary and he took the role. Gavin was again considered to play the British spy in 1973’s Live and Let Die before Roger Moore was chosen over him.
Gavin also appeared in a few other films and TV shows such as Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and Hart to Hart, but was already in the midst of switching careers. First, he served as president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1971-1973. In 1980, he campaigned for old friend and former president Ronald Reagan.
In 1981, Gavin was appointed as the Ambassador to Mexico under Reagan. Though he spoke Spanish and Portuguese fluently, Gavin had no previous diplomatic experience. His father, though, had invested money in the country’s mining industry and he was of Mexican descent on his mother’s side. Gavin drew many critics, but kept his sense of humor – during his Senate confirmation hearings in 1981, he was asked how an actor could take on the role of a diplomat. He responded by saying that he could show the senators nearly 40 movies “to prove that I’m no actor.”
Over time, Gavin gained strong supporters of his position. “Too often in the past we have dealt with Mexico from a condescending position where we look the other way at corruption and inefficiency and deal in vague diplomatic platitudes,” said Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas). “He never forgot that he was in Mexico to represent the United States, not to represent Mexico to Washington.”
After resigning as ambassador, Gavin worked for the Atlantic Richfield oil company and then became president of the parent company of the Univision television network.