If you noticed a familiar face during season four of Yellowstone, you're not alone. Legendary actor Barry Corbin turned up as a cowboy on the Four Sixes ranch in episode five, "Under a Blanket of Red," and we couldn't have asked for better casting.
Corbin is one of the most iconic Texas character actors out there. From John Travolta's uncle in Urban Cowboy to deputy Roscoe Brown in Lonesome Dove, Corbin has had regular supporting roles in western films and TV shows since the '80s. As a Texas native himself, with his notable southern twang, Corbin has proved to be a versatile actor who can play anything from a villain to a friendly high school basketball coach.
"I try to keep a good balance between comedy and drama," the Emmy Award-nominated actor told the Digital Journal. That's probably why his career is so full of diverse content.
Leonard Barrie Corbin grew up in Lubbock, Texas. From an early age, he was passionate about theater and kept pursuing that dream when he attended college at Texas Tech University. Though he dropped out to serve in the United States Marine Corps for two years, he returned to Tech and kept performing. After marrying his girlfriend and fellow actor Marie Elyse Soape, the couple decided that Lubbock didn't have the acting opportunities they were looking for, so they packed their bags.
They spent time in Chicago, where Corbin performed in local theater productions. They even traveled to North Carolina, where Corbin taught performing arts at North Carolina State University. In 1967, Corbin decided to move to New York City and go all-in on his dream to be an actor. A few years after welcoming son Bernard, Corbin and Soape called it quits and the actor started traveling all over the country looking for acting work, even living out of his car at times.
Corbin can really thank his writing skills for getting him discovered in Hollywood. He started writing plays and after moving to Los Angeles, invited an agent out to see his play The Whiz Bang Cafe, about a group of characters at a Texas truck stop. The agent was impressed by his acting skills and helped him land his first big film audition that would change his life — Uncle Bob in Urban Cowboy. At the time he was nearly 40 years old but his film career was just getting started.
The '80s really kicked off Corbin's career with a bang. He played Merit Sawyer in the NBC show Boone, Sheriff Fenton Washburn on the beloved soap opera Dallas, General Beringer in WarGames, and C.J. in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. By 1990, he was leading his own series playing Maurice Minnifield on Northern Exposure, an ex-astronaut leading a small town in Alaska. His co-star from Northern Exposure, John Cullum, told Texas Monthly that Corbin was really an incredible actor.
"Barry is such a good actor that sometimes he doesn't realize he's acting. That's the most perfect acting you can do. It's so natural that it's really him. He was totally authentic, almost a method actor. He deliberately created this character of Maurice."
But throughout his career, Corbin's favorite roles have been in westerns. It's his favorite genre he grew up watching at Lamesa's Majestic Theater as a kid.
"The western is our mythology," he told Texas Monthly. "Usually in a western, the hero is a guy who, well, what John Wayne said: 'Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.' And that's pretty much what a western ought to be."
Corbin lives on a ranch outside of Fort Worth, Texas, but that hasn't slowed down his ability to keep active over the years. He played Coach Whitey Durham on the CW's One Tree Hill for five years, the obstinate old man Everett Acker in Better Call Saul, had a lead role in Anger Management on FX, played Merle Tucker on Modern Family, and even appeared in the Oscar-winning film No Country for Old Men. He's also appeared on The Closer, Walker, Texas Ranger, Columbo, The Ranch, Young Sheldon, and 9-1-1: Lone Star. The man has hundreds of credits, which is incredibly impressive considering his career started later in life.
Corbin had two more children with his second wife Susan Berger and even discovered that he had a daughter he didn't know about, Shannon Ross, whom he met for the first time when she was in her 20s. Though his marriage with Berger also ended, Corbin is very dedicated to his children and now grandchildren. The beloved actor told the Digital Journal that he also has no plans of slowing down anytime soon, even as he enters his 80s.
"Success is my family, my kids, my grandkids, and my great-grandkids. "That's success to me," he said. "As long as I can keep working, career-wise, I feel like I am doing good. I need to keep working for my family."
We hope to see more of Corbin on Yellowstone and its spinoff 6666. According to IMDB, Corbin's character is named Ross, an experienced ranch hand who's already giving Jimmy some helpful advice on his journey to becoming a real cowboy.
"You've got to want this life. You've got to want it all the way to your bones," he tells Jimmy. "If you don't, it can be absolute hell on earth."
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This article previously ran in January of 2021. It was updated to reflect Corbin's new role on Yellowstone.
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