Jack Williams didn’t choose to go into the stunt business, he was born into it.
With a stuntman for a father and a trick horse rider for a mother, Williams was born on April 15, 1921, in Montana and was a longtime Hollywood stuntman, appearing in a host of films including “The Sons of Katie Elder,” “Cheyenne Autumn” and “Spartacus.”
On Tuesday, the longtime Agua Dulce resident died of natural causes at a convalescent home in Sylmar.
He would have turned 86 on Sunday.
“He was so proud to be the quiet man in the background, making good movies,” said his stepson Robert Vairo. “He was very proud of what he did.”
Williams performed his first stunt at age 4, passed from a horse to a stagecoach in a scene from the 1926 silent film “The Flaming Forest.”
As a student at the University of Southern California, Williams worked his way through school as a stuntman.
In total, he was credited and uncredited in more than 80 films.
In the heyday of his career, he worked with or doubled for Western icons such as John Wayne, Gene Autry, Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood.
His trademark stunt, one he learned from his father, George Williams, was training a horse to rear up and fall on cue as if shot, without injuring either the animal or rider.
“There was probably no feat I could have imagined that was as fascinating as that. So I took the technique and perfected it,” he said during an interview in 2005, the same year he received a plaque on the Walk of Western Stars in downtown Newhall.
Vairo said his stepfather was a man who was all about details, and who didn’t slow down even in retirement.
He spoke four languages and was taking a French class until he was 85, Vairo said, and would travel often with his wife, Clare, whom he met when they were neighbors in Burbank.
In 1964, he bought the ranch in Agua Dulce he called home, and where he buried Coco, the horse he rode in many of the films he worked on.
Over the last several years, Williams’ health began to fail, and for the last five weeks he had been hospitalized.
When he died Tuesday night, he had been in the convalescent home for just a day.
Vairo was with him shortly before he died, and said that “he was alert, and his mind was very strong. Unfortunately, his body wasn’t.
“He had so many wonderful friends. They’re going to miss (him).”
On Friday, Signal columnist John Boston said, “Jack Williams is a reminder to me about how life should be lived: With gusto, humor and panache. He was, and will always be, my friend, hero and fencing partner.”
WIlliams is survived by his wife, Clare, his stepson Vairo and his stepdaughters Toni Shoemaker and Donna Diamond.
His funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Eternal Valley Memorial Park and Mortuary, where he will be buried next to his parents.
During his last interview with The Signal in April 2005, Williams said that “as a stuntman, life’s an adventure. It’s marvelous, but so fragile. You remember in ‘The War Wagon’ where they’ve got the dynamite shaking and it could go off any second? That’s the way life is.”