Birthday: February 24, 1932
Nationality: American, Canadian
Died At Age: 72
Sun Sign: Pisces
Also Known As: John Keith Vernon
Born Country: Canada
Born in: Zehner
Famous as: Actor
Height: 6'2" (188 cm), 6'2" Males
father: Adolf Agopsowicz
mother: Eleonore Krückel
children: Chris Vernon, Kate Vernon, Nan Vernon
Died on: February 1, 2005
place of death: Westwood, California
education: Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London
John Keith Vernon was a Canadian actor who was often seen convincingly playing the roles of shrewd villains and unethical officials in Hollywood movies. After finishing his training at the prestigious ‘Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’ in London, he began his career on stage and later moved to television. He first came in limelight for playing the role of Steve Wojeck in the successful CBC television series ‘Wojeck’. Later, he moved to Hollywood, where his pockmarked face, heavy-lidded eyes and deep menacing voice helped in establishing him as a crafty villain. In the beginning of his career, he worked with many well-known directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood; but his talents were never fully utilized. Today, he is best remembered for his role in the cult classic, ‘Animal House’, in which he was finally able to showcase his comical expertise. Toward the end of his career, he concentrated mostly on voice work, giving voiceovers in films, television productions and video games. His last credited work in this genre was in the animation movie ‘Delgo’.
Childhood & Early Years
John Keith Vernon was born as Adolphus Raymondus Vernon Agopsowicz on February 24, 1932 in Zehner, an unincorporated area located in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Both his paternal and maternal families were originally from Austria.
His father Adolf Agopsowicz owned and operated a grocery store in Zehner, while his mother Eleonore nee Krücke was a housewife. He had a brother named Ernest Christopher Agopsowicz.
Vernon began his education at St. Joseph School in Zehner before moving to Campion College in the nearby city of Regina. It was there that he developed an interest in dramatics and started performing at the ‘Regina Little Theatre’ under the direction of Rev. Arthur Nelson, S.J. and Mary Ellen Burgess.
In 1953, he enrolled in Banff School of Fine Arts. It was while studying there that he started acting with amateur theater groups. Later, he won a scholarship to ‘Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’ (RADA) and moved to London.
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After completing his training at RADA, John Vernon started travelling with London-based repertory troupes. In 1956, he debuted in films as a voice actor for the character of Big Brother in ‘1984’. Thereafter, he returned to Canada and changed his name to John Keith Vernon before starting to work in television productions.
In 1957, he appeared in well-known television programs like 'The Adventures of Tugboat Annie', 'Hawkeye’ and ‘The Last of the Mohicans'. Concurrently, he also started working on stage, frequently performing at the ‘Shakespearean Festival’ in Stratford, Ontario.
Vernon debuted in Canadian cinema in 1964, and his first role was of Lot Supervisor in 'Nobody Waved Good-bye'. In the same year, he made his Broadway debut in 'The Royal Hunt of the Sun' at ANTA Playhouse. In it, he appeared as the explorer Hernando de Soto.
In 1966, he got his first starring role as Steve Wojeck in the successful CBC television series ‘Wojeck’. Starting on September 13, 1966, the dramatic show continued to air until March 12, 1968.
He made his Hollywood debut in the 1969 neo-noir crime film ‘Point Blank’, in which he played the role of Mal Reese. It did not take him much longer to get settled in Hollywood, and he soon appeared in films like ‘Justine’, 'Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here' and Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Topaz’.
In addition to movies, Vernon also worked in American television series like ‘Bonanza’ (1968), ‘The High Chaparral' (1969) and 'Hawaii Five-O' (1970).
The early 1970s saw him work in a number of films like ‘Dirty Harry’ (1971), ‘Fear is the Key’ (1972), 'Charley Varrick' (1973), 'The Black Windmill' (1974) and ‘The Questor Tapes’ (1974), etc.
In 1974, he returned to England to play Malvolio at ‘The Royal Shakespeare Theatre’ in Stratford-Upon-Avon for one season.
He appeared alongside Richard Attenborough and John Wayne in the British thriller film ‘Brannigan’. However, his most remarkable movie of the decade was 'National Lampoon's Animal House’ (1978), in which he appeared as Dean Vernon Wormer.
In the 1980s, Vernon appeared in several cult exploitation and action films like ‘Chained Heat’ (1983) and ‘Savage Streets’ (1984). He also did voiceover for the film ‘Heavy Metal’ (1981) and the television series ‘Wildfire’ (1986). In 1988, he diluted his villainous image by playing Mr. Big in the parody movie 'I'm Ginna Git You Sucka'.
The 1990s saw him focus more on voice acting; therefore, he had a limited number of screen performances to his credit during this period. His last films ‘Sorority Boys’, in which he appeared as Old Man, and ‘Welcome to America’, in which he played Det. Golding, were released in 2002.
John Vernon is best remembered for the 1978 film 'National Lampoon's Animal House’. He essayed the role of Dean Vernon Wormer, who declares war on the hard-partying Delta fraternity. Through his performance in the movie, he was able to showcase his comedic talents, which helped him join the list of ‘AFI’s 100 Years 100 Laughs’.
Family & Personal Life
Possibly in the late 1950s or early 1960s, John Vernon married actress Nancy West. They had three children together - two daughters named Kate and Nancy and a son called Chris. Nancy had two sons, Grant and Jim West, from her earlier marriage. The couple later decided to dissolve their marriage and filed for a divorce.
His daughter Nancy (born 1967) grew up to be a singer-guitarist, while Kate (born 1961) and Chris became actors like their parents.
On February 1, 2005, Vernon died of complications arising from a heart surgery in California at the age of 72. After a private funeral service, his mortal remains were cremated.