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Home > Popped Clogs

Popped Clog: James Coburn

James Coburn - actor, gun-slinger, arthritis sufferer, bore - has died. He was 74.

19 November 2002

Whatever else he will be remembered for, James Coburn will long be celebrated as one of the world’s most unashamedly craggy actors. Ever since Margaret Rutherford burst onto the scene with a face like the back of the Andes, cragginess has been a prized virtue in cinema.

Cragginess was only given a scientific definition as late as 2001: 'cragginess is defined as the possession of facial clefting to a degree not less than is displayed by Melvyn Bragg'.

Former Popped Clog, Michael Elphick was classically craggy, but like many, his cragginess came late. Likewise, Kevin Spacey is lining himself up for some mid-life cragginess. Harrison Ford is getting craggier by the second, and looks ripe to inherit Coburn’s mantle. But Coburn was getting craggy even by the time of his Flint movies (1966/7). His cragginess was studied, delicate, sublime. He put work into it. He scrunched his eyes up and peered at things. He took a part in ‘Hudson Hawk’. He became a power smoker.

The rich, ochre smoke of his hundred dollar cigars thinned his skin, allowing the cragginess to root. He became vast, flapping map of a face, into whose deep and sensuous lines only Charles Bronson was fit to gaze. The two screen legends would spend long hours on Bronson’s veranda, running their calloused fingers over each others’ cheeks and jowls and whistling old prison songs. Sadly, Bronson had no idea what was going on – but still there was a sparkle in his confused eyes.

It is comforting to know that they will be together again soon.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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