George Kosana, who played the beefy Sheriff McClelland in the 1968 cult zombie film, “Night of the Living Dead,” has died. He was 81.
Longtime friend John Russo said Kosana was found dead Friday in his home in Clairton, Pennsylvania, after friends said he was not returning telephone calls.
Russo, a co-writer of the movie who recruited Kosana for the part, said his friend was a “natural” for the role of sheriff in the horror flick.
“It seemed to fit his personality,” Russo recalled, describing his friend as “cantankerous, amusing, blustery and sincere.”
It was during the audition that Kosana ad-libbed what became his most memorable line in the film: “They’re dead. They’re all messed up.”
Kosana also received a credit in the film as production manager. On the movie’s shoestring budget, he pitched in in various roles and even hung some of his stuffed animal heads from hunting trips as props in the house where the movie was shot.
The film â€” a 90-minute gorefest about a handful of western Pennsylvania townsfolk running from man-eating ghouls â€” left viewers aghast when it debuted nearly five decades ago but was placed in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 1999.
In the years since, Russo said he and Kosana frequented horror film conventions, where Kosana sold T-shirts with the famous quote, posed for photos, signed autographs and sold collectibles.
“He just kind of gloried in the adulation he got,” Russo recalled.
Kosana worked for years in the steel mill in Clairton â€” including between working on films with Russo. The job led to numerous health issues, his friend said.
Russo, who still makes horror movies, cast Kosana in his latest film, a horror comedy from 2016 titled “My Uncle John Is A Zombie.” In it, he reprises his role and lampoons McClelland.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
Errin Haines Whack, The Associated Press