Herbert Coward, Actor Who Played Toothless Man in ‘Deliverance,’ Dies at 85


Herbert Coward, the actor whose modest career included the small but memorable role of Toothless Man in the 1972 thriller “Deliverance,” was killed on Thursday in a motor vehicle accident in North Carolina. He was 85.

Mr. Coward died after he drove onto U.S. Highway 23 in Haywood County in the western part of the state and was struck by a truck, said Sgt. Marcus Bethea, a North Carolina State Highway Patrol spokesman. A passenger in Mr. Coward’s vehicle, Bertha Brooks, 78, was also killed, as were a Chihuahua and pet squirrel Sergeant Bethea said.

Mr. Coward, who lived in Canton, N.C., in Haywood County, was often seen with his pet squirrel, according to local news reports.

The 16-year-old driver of the truck was taken to a hospital with minor injuries, according to Sergeant Bethea. He said that it was unclear what had led to the crash and that no charges had been filed.

Mr. Coward, who went by the nickname Cowboy, was best known his role in “Deliverance,” which featured Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Jon Voight. The film is an adaptation of a novel by James Dickey about four Atlanta businessmen on a harrowing canoe trip in rural Georgia.

In the movie, two of the businessmen come across two hostile mountain men in the woods, one of them being Toothless Man. The men tie one of the friends to a tree, and then force the other to strip down to his underwear and “squeal like a pig.”

As the two men contemplate what to do with the friend tied up to the tree, Mr. Coward’s character delivers the line, “He got a real purty mouth, ain’t he?”

The four friends are eventually reunited and escape by killing one of the men with an arrow and chasing off Mr. Coward’s character. The scene is brief, but Mr. Coward’s line became one of the more memorable movie lines of the 1970s and the most remembered of Mr. Coward’s career.

Mr. Coward’s acting career was largely limited after “Deliverance.” He appeared in the 2007 film “Ghost Town: The Movie” and in one episode of the TV series “Hillbilly Blood” in 2013, according to IMDB.

Herbert Coward was born in Haywood County on Aug. 21, 1938, to Fred and Moody Parker Coward, he said in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News in 2019. His mother died when he was young, and Mr. Coward said that he worked different jobs across the country, including performing at a Wild West-themed park in Maggie Valley, N.C.

Complete information on survivors was not immediately available on Thursday.

While at the theme park, Mr. Coward briefly worked with Mr. Reynolds, who later recommended Mr. Coward for the role of Toothless Man, Mr. Coward said in the interview.

In a television interview in 2022 reflecting on the 50th anniversary of “Deliverance,” Mr. Coward said that he was illiterate and learned his lines for “Deliverance” by listening to a script on tape recorder.

“I write my name,” he said, “and that’s it.



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