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Bill Hinzman, 75, first zombie onscreen in ‘Night of the Living Dead’ has died

Samuel William 'Bill' Hinzman

Samuel William "Bill" Hinzman

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Updated: March 11, 2012 8:39AM

Bill Hinzman, credited with helping to give birth to a new horror film genre for his chilling role as the first zombie to lurch onscreen in “Night of the Living Dead,” used to joke with his family that they had better handle his funeral arrangements in exactly the right way.

“He just always said he needed to be cremated, because if we didn’t, he would come back,” said his daughter, Heidi Hinzman.

Mr. Hinzman died Sunday at age 75 in Pennsylvania, where the horror classic was filmed.

He was the first zombie to appear in what fans call “NOTLD,” a 1968 breakthrough for its shocking images, cinema verite feel and depiction of zombies as unstoppable, flesh-eating maws of destruction.

At the beginning of the film, Mr. Hinzman menaces a couple in a Pittsburgh-area cemetery. He had to strike a car window with a rock in an attempt to get at a victim. The rock bounced off the window and almost hit director George Romero, according to the movie website

The budget for the film was so tight that Mr. Hinzman did his own special effects.

He whitened his face with powder and blackened his teeth with licorice, his daughter said.

He often appeared at fan conventions, where “Zombie #1” was a favorite for his willingness to dress up in costume, pose for photos and answer questions. “He’s known and loved everywhere,” his daughter said.

In 2010, Mr. Hinzman appeared at Chicago’s Portage Theater on the Northwest Side where he delighted the crowd with his “zombie walk,” fan Jay Hawkinson said in an email.

“He was gracious, seemed like a teddy bear, and really knew [what] the role he played so many years ago meant to his fans,” Mitchell Wells, owner of the Chicago-based Horror Society, said in an email.

Asked why her father’s movie appearance was so effective, Hinzman said: “He just had a natural eye and instinct for it. He started as a still photographer. He learned everything he could from George [Romero].”

Mr. Hinzman worked as a filmmaker, cinematographer and a director but will mainly be remembered for being “a family man,” she said.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Hinzman is survived by his wife, Bonita; his mother, Dorothy; his sister, Edna Bross; his brothers, George and David, and one granddaughter.

Services are scheduled Thursday at Copeland’s funeral home in Moon Township, Pa.

Fans and “NOTLD” friends attended his visitation Wednesday, said Heidi Hinzman. “The whole ‘Night of the Living Dead’ family were there,” she said, including Russell Streiner, who played Johnny, the bespectacled man who comes to a bad end in the cemetery; screenwriter John Russo; George Kosana, who played Sheriff McClelland, and Kyra Schon, identified by IMDb as Karen Cooper, the “trowel-wielding zombie kid.”

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