The man behind not one, but two of the iconic villains in the Mad Max franchise has died. Australian actor Hugh Keays-Byrne passed away at age 73, as first reported by Ozploitation filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith on Facebook.
Trenchard-Smith posted that the ex-Royal Shakespeare Company actor—known best to American audiences for playing Toecutter in George Miller’s 1979 film Mad Max and for returning to the franchise as Mad Max: Fury Road’s Immortan Joe 36 years later—”had a generous heart, offering a helping hand to people in need, or a place to stay to a homeless teenager.”
“He cared about social justice and preserving the environment long before these issues became fashionable,” Trenchard-Smith wrote. “His life was governed by his sense of the oneness of humanity. We will miss his example and his friendship.”
After jumping onto the big screen with the 1974 biker film Stone (in which he played Toad alongside such crew members as Dr. Death, Captain Midnight, and Septic), Keays-Byrne would steadily pop up in film and TV as a character actor—most notably, for the latter, as Farscape’s Grunchlk.
But his Mad Max performances stand alone not only as unique casting decisions for a franchise, but as affecting and disturbing depictions that act as foils to the series’ strong, often quiet heroes. The larger-than-life Toecutter tapped into the actor’s Shakespearean training while breathing-impaired Joe was an exercise in intimidation. Keays-Byrne was nominated for Best Supporting Actor as both Toecutter and Immortan Joe by Australian film industry associations.
“For an old ham like me, it’s great fun,” the actor told USA Today of playing the Mad Max roles. “I tend to always be the bad guys.”