The stunt world has lost a superstar. George P. Wilbur, the prolific stunt performer, coordinator, and double has died at the age of 81.
Film fans and critics seldom give stunt performers the love they deserve, but as "Once Upon A Time… in Hollywood" showed us, they're often the invisible pillars holding up entire productions. Without their high-octane mix of bravery and precise training, and with a generous dash of daredevil recklessness, we would never have gotten the death-defying, thrill-inducing, price-of-the-ticket justifying action that has made films like "Die Hard," "Escape From New York," and "Total Recall" such rewatchable classics. And Wilbur, whose resume was nearing a stunning 150 credits when he retired in 2013, did stunts on all of them.
Born at the height of the Second World War in Connecticut, in 1941, Wilbur would go on to enlist in the Navy before eventually finding his way to Tuscon, Arizona, where he worked as a wrangler on a ranch. When Paramount sent Howard Hawks and a crew out to Tuscon to shoot pick-ups for "El Dorado" in 1966, Wilbur found his way onto the set as an extra. As would become the norm for the rest of his career, Wilbur rose precipitously in rank on set, eventually being recruited as a stand-in for the star of the show, John Wayne.
Wilbur got his start in Hollywood at the moment the studio system came crashing down, rode the grindhouse wave of the '70s (he performed stunts in "Blaclua," "Cleopatra Jones," and John Frankenheimer's "99 and 44/100% Dead!"), crested into some of the best horror films of the '80s ("Poltergeist," "Ghostbusters," "Re-Animator"), and soared through the aughts and '90s by turning in stunt after impressive stunt in films as varied as "Set It Off," "The Notebook," "Casino," and "Mars Attacks!"
The Wilbur Walk
Wilbur was a rare exception to the rule of stunt performer ignorance, but it wasn't thanks to any of the explosive flicks listed above. For that, he could thank two things: stunt performer stints on a string of "Halloween" sequels, and the ever-passionate clutch horror fans who surrounded each of them with love.
Though it's been reclaimed as a cult classic since the time of its release, fans were shocked when Michael Myers, burned to a crisp at the end of "Halloween II," actually didn't return for the threequel, "Season Of The Witch." For many, 1988's "Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers" also constituted a return to form for the franchise, and the new man behind the shape was the driving force behind the bump in quality. Wilbur portrayed Michael in "Halloween IV," "V," and "VI," with help from Tom Morga in "The Return" and A. Michael Lerner in "The Curse of Michael Myers." In a 2017 interview on the "Horrible Horror" podcast, he attributed the power of his Michael era to what he called "the Wilbur walk," a steady, lumbering gait we've all come to associate with the iconic villain, but which had always just been Wilbur's stride. When you consider he doubled for the likes of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Paul Newman throughout his career, the confident, wide-legged strut, not showy but never, ever timid, makes sense.
George P. Wilbur's incredible career spanned six decades and just about every type of film you can imagine. His contributions to the art of motion pictures earned him a much-deserved spot in the Hollywood Stuntmen's Hall of Fame. He will live on in the hearts of those he loved most and remains eternal on the silver screen.
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