A Quick Tribute to “Mountain Man” Bill McKinney

Rewatching Deliverance to write last week’s Southern Movies post got me to thinking about Bill McKinney. This unfortunate soul has gone down in the movie history as the “squeal like a pig” guy, but his legacy is much more than that, especially to a GenXer like me.

McKinney was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1931. His IMDb bio shares that his family moved often, and “when [they] moved from Tennessee to Georgia, he was beaten by a local gang and thrown into a creek for the offense of being from the Volunteer State.” However, a stint in the Navy landed him in California, where he became part of The Actors Studio in the 1960s. After some minor roles on TV, he was cast as the Mountain Man in Deliverance

This role is brief but haunting. From the moment we see him, the Mountain Man is standing on the shore, ready to accost the unwitting suburbanites. He speaks first with a threatening, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” and then proceeds to taunt and then rape a man who did nothing more than happen by. When he is done, he comes over, sweating and panting, to his accomplice and asks how he wants to abuse the other man they’ve trapped. It’s a brutal part to play, and despite the fact that it only last seven minutes, I would say that no one who watches that scene will ever forget it. 

I think of Bill McKinney as a guy who always seemed to play some hapless villain or antagonist, often in Clint Eastwood’s movies. In The Outlaw Josey Wales, he was Red Legs, the man our anti-hero was looking for. In Every Which Way but Loose, he played the biker in the Viking helmet who always got bested by Philo Beddo. He was also in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, The Gauntlet, Bronco Billy, and Any Which Way You Can. McKinney played a good jerk, with his deep voice and stony expression— characters who usually ended up being more talk than substance. So much so that he also found himself in blaxploitation films like Cleopatra Jones and the TV show Get Christie Love! 

During my childhood, McKinney was one of those actors that always seemed to show up on screen. He was in episodes of The A Team and the quirky trucker sitcom BJ and the Bear in the late ’70s and early ’80s. All in all, his TV credits include The Monkees in the late ’60s, Columbo in the ’70s, Falcon Crest in the ’80s, and Walker, Texas Ranger in the ’90s. Reading his filmography, I was surprised that he never found his way onto The Dukes of Hazzard— he would have been perfect.

Bill McKinney died in 2011 of esophageal cancer. An LA Times article about his passing says that he had been writing an autobiography, which doesn’t appear to have been published. However, he did leave behind a Deliverance-themed country album, Love Songs from Antri, which was released in the 1990s.


 

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