L.Q. Jones, a hirsute, craggy-faced, swaggering Texan who guilelessly played the antihero in some 60 films and dozens of television series, died on Saturday at his home in the Hollywood Hills area of Los Angeles. He was 94.
His death was confirmed by his grandson Erté deGarces.
A former stand-up comic, Mr. Jones also tried his hand as a bean, corn and dairy rancher in Nicaragua and once described himself as “but several hours away from three degrees — one in law, one in business, one in journalism” at the University of Texas.
But he was lured to the Warner Bros. studios when a college roommate, Fess Parker, the actor who later played both Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, persuaded him to audition for a minor role in the 1955 film “Battle Cry,” directed by Raoul Walsh and adapted from Leon Uris’s novel.
Mr. Parker sent him a copy of the book and a map with directions to the Warner lot. Mr. Jones was cast in two days.
Billed as Justus E. McQueen (his birth name), he made his first appearance onscreen as the movie’s narrator introduced a group of all-American Army recruits being shipped by train to boot camp. The camera then panned to a character named L.Q. Jones.
“Then, abruptly, the narrator’s voice drops to the scornful tone of a 10th-grade math teacher doling out detention,” Justin Humphreys wrote in “Names You Never Remember, With Faces You Never Forget” (2006).
“‘There’s one in every group,’ he tells us, as we see L.Q. mischievously giving one of the other soldiers-to-be a hotfoot,” Mr. Humphrey added. “There could have been no more perfect beginning to L.Q. Jones’s career in the movies. The word that best sums up his overriding screen persona is hellion.”
The actor pirated the character’s name for his own subsequent screen credits. From then on, Justus McQueen was L.Q. Jones.
Mr. Jones joined the director Sam Peckinpah’s stable of actors, appearing in “Ride the High Country” (1962), “Major Dundee” (1965) and “The Wild Bunch” (1969), in which he and his fellow character actor Strother Martin play rival bounty hunters and, as the studio described their manic competition for the highest body count, “bring their depraved characters to life with a childish energy.”
Mr. Jones was also frequently seen in the stampede of westerns that arrived on TV in the 1950s and ’60s, including “Cheyenne,” “Gunsmoke,” “Wagon Train” and “Rawhide.” His films included the 1968 westerns “Hang ’em High,” in which he slipped a noose around Clint Eastwood’s neck, and “Stay Away, Joe,” with Elvis Presley. Among his other screen credits were Martin Scorsese’s “Casino” (1995) and Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion” (2006), his last film.
Mr. Jones directed, produced and helped write “A Boy and His Dog” (1975), a dark post-apocalyptic comedy starring Don Johnson and Jason Robards, based on the book of the same name by Harlan Ellison.
“‘A Boy and His Dog,’ a fantasy about the world after a future holocaust, is, more or less, a beginner’s movie. It has some good ideas and some terrible ones,” Richard Eder wrote in his New York Times review.
“This is the second film directed by L.Q. Jones, better known as an actor,” Mr. Eder continued. “It is not really a success, but I hope he goes on directing.”
He didn’t. “A Boy and His Dog” acquired a cult following, but Mr. Jones returned to what he did best. He preferred the independence of choosing the villainous roles that appealed to him, and that measured his success, to the prospect of directing someone else’s script and wrangling larger-than-life egos.
“Different parts call for different heavies,” Mr. Jones told William R. Horner for his book “Bad at the Bijou” (1982).
“I have a certain presence,” he explained. “I play against that presence a lot of times, and that’s of a heavy that is not crazy or deranged — although we play those, of course — but rather someone who is a heavy because he enjoys being a heavy.”
“It’s really hard to say what they’re looking for when they pick me,” Mr. Jones said. “A lot of times your heavy is not that well presented in the script. Most times he’s too one-sided. So we look for things to bring to being a heavy: a certain softness; a vulnerability that makes him human; a quiet moment when he’s a screamer most of the time; a look; the way he dresses; the way he walks into a room.”
Mr. Jones was born Justus Ellis McQueen Jr. on Aug. 19, 1927, in Beaumont, Texas. His father was a railroad worker; his mother, Jessie Paralee (Stephens) McQueen, died in a car accident when he was a child. He learned to ride a horse when he was 8.
After graduating from high school, he served in the Navy, attended Lamar Junior College and Lon Morris College in Texas, and briefly attended the University of Texas at Austin.
His marriage to Sue Lewis ended in divorce. In addition to his grandson, his survivors include his sons, Randy McQueen and Steve Marshall, and his daughter, Mindy McQueen.
Mr. Jones seemed to measure success less by his bank account (he once described himself as “independently poor”) than by professional gratification. But he had a sense of humor about it.
“I’m around somewhere, probably just counting my money,” the message on his telephone answering machine said. “When I get through, if I’m not too tired, I’ll return your call.”