What Happened to Bruce Campbell?

Ask Bruce Campbell, and he’ll tell you he’s “sick of over-trained heroes. I’m really bored with that. Guys that are just ripped to shreds and, you know, full of skills. That’s boring to me. Give me the mechanic that picks up a weapon, you know? Now I’m interested. That’s my hero. That could be me.”

Ash Williams of the Evil Dead franchise is that hero. Part of the lasting appeal of the best character Bruce Campbell has ever played is that the audience can see themselves in him, like if they were pressed into fighting an army of Deadites, they could take up the mantle, the chainsaw, the boomstick, and mow down wave after wave of the undead masses.

He is a man that should have been an A-List superstar and in the eyes of his fanbase he is…. which is all that really matters in the end. Movies are supposed to be fun and you can always feel that when Bruce is on the screen because he legitimately seems to be enjoying the cards he has been dealt in life and is playing them passion.

Bruce would also tell you: “All men think they’re fascinating. In my case, it’s justified.” So what makes Bruce Campbell so fascinating? To learn that, let’s take it back to the beginning where the beginning began to begin beginning where it began to begin.

Bruce Lorne Campbell was born on June 22″, 1958, in Royal Oak, Michigan, USA. His journey into acting was sparked by watching his father act in community theater. He formed a fruitful lifelong friendship in high school when he met Sam Raimi. They’d collaborate on the short horror film Within the Woods in 1979 as part of their pitch to fund a feature film. I’m sure Campbell’s trademark charm went a long way toward getting them the funds they needed to make 1981’s The Evil Dead.

The Evil Dead stands as a triumph in tight-budget filmmaking, owed in large part to its innovative storytelling and practical effects. However, Bruce Campbell’s iconic performance contributes equally to its enduring legacy. His portrayal of the lead character Ash Williams showcased remarkable range, vulnerability, unwavering commitment, and physicality—in defiance of his relative inexperience. Bruce wore many creative hats during the production and wasn’t above getting his hands dirty to make the production work. After having seen the movie or even just a screenshot, would you believe Bruce Campbell hates fake blood? I’d say he picked the wrong line of work, if he wasn’t so good at it.

Evil Dead legitimized Bruce Campbell as a leading man, and he would go on to get top billing in the 1984 coming-of-age film Going Back. The film, shot and partially set in Michigan, showed Campbell’s pride in his roots as well as his natural, believable approach to acting.

Bruce Campbell, Evil Dead

Campbell reunited with his friend Sam Raimi for 1985’s Crimewave. Raimi reportedly expanded the role of Renaldo “The Heel” in the Coen Brothers-penned flick for his buddy Bruce. The film doesn’t necessarily live up to the brilliance of the creative forces behind it or Raimi and Campbell’s first effort, but Campbell offers a memorable and quirky performance in a movie that has gone on to cult status.

Campbell and Raimi bounced back strong in 1987 with perhaps their most beloved collaboration: Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn. The sequel/partial retelling trades the camp of the original for full-on dark humor and is all the better for it. Campbell’s performance takes the audience on a rollercoaster of terror and absurdity while the character grows from victim into victorious hero. He expertly balances the humorous and the horrific and wholeheartedly immersed himself in the physical demands of the role. His delivery of his trademark “groovy” and his iconic demented laugh are forever etched in the minds of audiences.

Bruce Campbell battles not only a relentless killer but also the very system that betrayed him as Officer Jack Forrest in 1988’s Maniac Cop. He would reprise the role in Maniac Cop 2 in 1991. The movies are pretty typical of B-movie slashers of the time but are worth seeing for Campbell’s portrayal of fragility and resilience.

Campbell featured in 1989’s Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat as a descendent of the legendary Van Helsing. Let’s see: a corrupt hierarchy of vampires struggling to adapt to a modern setting by consuming manufactured blood. And a full 12 years before Dead Until Dark, the novel that inspired True Blood, released? Interesting. Campbell admits he took the role because he was desperate for money’, but it has turned into one of his bigger cult hits.

He played astronaut Ray Tanner in 1989’s Moontrap, who got… trapped on the moon if you can believe it. Campbell brings his characteristic charm to the sci-fi horror before undergoing a genuinely scary, if all-too-brief, transformation.

Bruce Campbell, Spider-Man

Not for the last time, Campbell reunited with his buddy Sam Raimi for a superhero flick in 1990’s Darkman. Think if Liam Neeson played RoboCop meets Batman with a Sam Raimi flair. Campbell makes a comedic cameo, livening the otherwise dour tone.

In 1992’s Mindwarp, Bruce Campbell plays Stover, a drifter suffering under a post-apocalyptic society ruled by Al. Maybe this is a more of a preview of what’s in store for us. Mindwarp is a less-refined exploration of some of the same themes that The Matrix would explore 7 years later. Instead of fighting simulations, Campbell as Stover helps protagonist Judy fight mutant cannibals. You can decide which is more fun.

Campbell and Raimi bookended the original Evil Dead trilogy with 1992’s Army of Darkness. While the first two movies set a high bar, Army of Darkness took the series in a unique direction: back in time to the medieval age. If Evil Dead is a campy horror and Evil Dead 2 is a dark comedy, then Army of Darkness is an action-comedy that ratchets up the scope and scale of the conflict with some impressive set pieces. Because it’s still an Evil Dead movie, it doesn’t lack for gore. Campbell’s Ash Williams completes his journey into full on Deadite conqueror, perhaps best represented by his triumphant decree “This is my boomstick!”? Fittingly, the boomstick hails from southern Michigan, just like Bruce himself.

Bruce Campbell made a mark on television in the mid-90s, first with The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. in 1993, wherein he played lawyer-turned-bounty-hunter Brisco County. Yeah, that’s the character’s name, not a place. The western with sci-fi elements earned a passionate fanbase that was unfortunately not consistent enough to earn the show a second season.

Campbell played another Jr. in the form of antagonist Bill Church Jr. on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman in the mid-90s. Think like a more charming but less resourceful Lex Luthor. He famously leverages
Red Kryptonite to give Superman a serious case of the fuck-its.

Campbell was in The Hudsucker Proxy, written and directed by the Coen Brothers, in 1994. Critics would find the movie more stylistic than substantive, but Campbell does his part as an offbeat member of a loaded ensemble cast.

His character Autolycus, the “King of Thieves” spanned across both Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys starting in 1995. Campbell brought believability to the confident flair of the skilled master thief with a penchant for wordplay. His charisma stole scenes faster than he swiped treasures.

Campbell had a recurring guest role on the sitcom Ellen in 1996 and 1997. He portrayed Ed Billik, who became the titular Ellen’s boss when she sold her bookstore. Their interactions showcased a delightful contrast: Ellen’s quirky and often uncertain demeanor juxtaposed with Ed’s self-assured and assertive personality. This dynamic added humor and depth to the series, making their scenes memorable for viewers.

Burn Notice

In 1996’s Escape from L.A., Bruce Campbell portrayed the character Surgeon General of Beverly Hills. Under layers of makeup, he became a wrinkleless, cap-toothed, doll-haired, dimpled-chinned monster—a twisted vision of Michael Jackson with a turned-up nose. Despite the film’s poor initial critical and commercial reception, it has since gained a cult following, and Campbell’s medical office from hell remains a standout moment in the movie.

In 1997, Campbell featured in the TV movie Menno’s Mind as Mick Dourif, Rebel Leader. You don’t need to go out of your way to see it. I’m only mentioning it because it’s another Matrix-adjacent outing years before. I’m not sure there’s such thing as an original idea.

Campbell appears briefly in the unfortunate 1999 direct-to-video sequel From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money, perhaps as a way to grant the film some legitimacy. It didn’t work.

2000’s Icebreaker features a bald Bruce Campbell as a terrorist leader against action star Sean Astin.

Campbell played lead in Jack of All Trades for 2 seasons starting in 2000. The Napoleon-era period action-comedy features Bruce as Jack Stiles. The character rivals Forrest Gump for the number of historical events and famous figures he is in the proximity of, and his alter-ego “the Daring Dragoon” is a blend of Zorro’s flair, Batman’s mystery, and a dash of James Bond’s wit.

Jim Carrey ventured into drama with 2001’s The Majestic, and a pivotal moment for his character comes when he watches Bruce Campbell in a movie within the movie as Roland the Intrepid Explorer. Campbell perfectly embodies the look and delivery of a golden era action star.

Bruce Campbell released his autobiography: If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor in 2002. The New York Times Bestseller is essential reading for fans of his, and anyone interested in the movie-making process can get something from it. He followed it up in 2017 with Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor, another Bestseller that picks up where the first book left off and covers the cool stuff he’d been up to, since, cool stuff like…

Reuniting with his friend Sam Raimi for his Spider-Man movie series. In the 2002 original, Campbell plays the ring announcer for Peter Parker’s wrestling bout against “Macho Man” Randy Savage as Bonesaw McGraw and is responsible for coining the “Spider-Man” name. In 2004’s Spider-Man 2, he portrays a snooty usher who, after helping Peter Parker fix his appearance, still won’t let him late into Mary Jane’s performance.

For Spider-Man 3 in 2007, Campbell returned to the service industry as The Maitre d’ of the restaurant where Peter Parker attempts to propose to Mary Jane. Rumor has it that these cameos were set to be paid off in a big way in the cancelled Spider-Man 4, with Campbell returning as the villain Mysterio and being revealed to have been disguising himself as the other characters as part of his surveillance of Spider-Man. Bruce Campbell denies these rumors.

Bruce Campbell returned to his absurdist B-movie comfort zone with 2002’s beloved cult hit Bubba Ho-Tep. In it, he played a man who probably was Elvis Presley and teamed with a man who probably wasn’t JFK to fight a murderous mummy. Oh, and he may have had dick cancer. For all its oddity, Bubba Ho-Tep is a poignant and endearing film about growing old in a society where the old are mistreated and facing death both literally and metaphorically.

Campbell directed and starred in 2005’s Man With the Screaming Brain. The concept is interesting, but the movie doesn’t really do much with it. While a lot of the B-movies Campbell features in compensate for a small budget with passionate execution, this one has little redeeming value apart from being a part of Campbell’s storied career.

Campbell played Coach Boomer in 2005’s much more family-friendly Sky High. His superpower is a powerful voice, which is fitting. He also serves as the movie’s sorting hat for prospective superheroes and sidekicks.

The cast and crew list for The Ant Bully from 2006 is chock-full of Hollywood royalty. Tom Hanks was on as a producer, and the animation featured the voice talents of Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Nicolas Cage, Paul Giamatti, Regina King, Ricardo Montalban, and, of course, Bruce Campbell. Campbell as Fugax acts as a confident and kind guiding force to the main character.

Campbell will always be known first as Ash Williams, but his second most beloved character just might be Sam Axe of the show Burn Notice, whom he played starting in 2007. The character is the skillful, loyal, and grounded companion of the main character. Campbell’s portrayal was so beloved by fans as to inspire the spinoff prequel movie Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe in 2011.

He directed and starred in My Name is Bruce in 2007. Obviously, the movie is a bit self-indulgent, but it’s a marked improvement over Man With the Screaming Brain, and there’s a lot of meta humor to appreciate, especially for the target audience of Bruce Campbell’s fanbase. If you love Bruce, you probably like this movie, and if you don’t, I’m surprised you made it this far into this video.

Campbell voiced Mayor Shelbourne in 2009’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. He’s a master of subtlety to begin the movie, masking his harmful ambition behind kindness and charisma before leveraging that same charisma to manipulate the other characters, with catastrophic results.

Sam Raimi directed Oz the Great and Powerful for a 2013 release, so of course he brought his friend Bruce in for a cameo, this time as The Winkie Gate Keeper. He’s hard to recognize under the makeup and prosthetics, but | think that chin is mostly his.

Ash vs. Evil Dead, Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell produced the 2013 Evil Dead reboot and appeared in a brief teaser post-credits. It was initially thought to tease his involvement in another Evil Dead feature film, but his next Evil Dead involvement would be Ash vs Evil Dead, a television series that ran from 2015-2018. In the show, Bruce as Ash, after spending 30 years in relative obscurity, haplessly unleashes another Deadite threat upon the world and is obviously best-suited for the job of stemming the tide. The show and Campbell’s performance are loved by critics and audiences for respectfully modernizing what made the original series so special. It unfortunately released on a premium channel in a tough television environment and was cancelled after 3 seasons. An animated continuation of the show has been hinted at as recently as 2023.

Campbell had a recurring voice role in Disney’s Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure series starting in 2018 as King Edmund and as Chef in The Last Kids on Earth starting in 2020.

He served as executive producer and host for Travel Channel’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Reboot in 2019. Reviews are mixed on whether the show lives up to the legacy of Ripley’s or its host.

Campbell voiced Richard Nixon in the audiotapes featured throughout 2021’s 18 1/2. This was actually the second time be portrayed a former president, having been Ronald Reagan in the television show Fargo in 2015.

Bruce Campbell’s latest cameo in a Sam Raimi Marvel movie is as Pizza Poppa in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in 2022. He’s morally absolute, if a bit misguided and overmatched, and is responsible for the funniest moments in the largely depressing film.

In 2023’s Evil Dead Rise, Campbell has a voiceover cameo as a recorded priest that warns against the dangers of the Necronomicon. A fun fan theory posits that the priest is actually Ash Williams on another time traveling adventure.

In late 2023, Bruce Campbell hosted Discontinued, a show that take a nostalgic look at trends and products that have become obsolete. Campbell keeps the tone tight but humorous.

Bruce Campbell’s not just a B-list actor; he’s a B-movie legend. He’s also a producer, a director, a bestselling author, and an ordained minister. He frequently and passionately performs for members of the United States military both stateside and abroad. Despite his bravado, he’s universally described by those who know him as humble, kind, loyal, and dedicated. These days, when he’s not still acting, you can find him on the Comicon circuit, hosting his own digital film festival “BruceFest”, or, if you pull up to your favorite streaming service, embodying one of the most iconic horror heroes of all time. And he’s said he’d be happy to return to the role of Ash Williams, which I’m sure fans would love to see. The story of Bruce is a simple one: one day he and his friends made a cool movie and that allowed him to go on a make a bunch of other cool movies for the rest of his life. Never really rising to the top of the industry – never really having any major ups and downs when it came to respect for his skills just consistently maintaining his perfect level of coolness. Maybe he never reached the heights of A-list superstardom, but he made millions of people happy with his talents. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Bruce Campbell is not just great, he’s groovy. Hail to the King, Baby!

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/what-happened-to-bruce-campbell/

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