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‘Crime Story,’ ‘The Fugitive’ actor Turk Muller dies at 70

Turk Muller for Obit phoright with former Chicago cop turned Hollywood actor Dennis Farinleft TV series 'Crime Stories.'  Farinremembers

Turk Muller, for Obit photo, right, with former Chicago cop turned Hollywood actor Dennis Farina, left, in the TV series, "Crime Stories." Farina remembers Muller as a good guy. Provided photo

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:37AM

With a build like Dick Butkus and a face like a battered 16-inch softball, Terry “Turk” Muller — a respected character actor who appeared on TV in “Crime Story,” in movies including “The Fugitive” and “Public Enemies” and on stage at Chicago theaters including Steppenwolf, Mary-Arrchie and Prop — knew how to communicate menace.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound “Turk” was a heavy in some of the best-known dramas to come out of Chicago, including “Crime Story,” the 1980s TV show that starred Dennis Farina as a crime-fighting cop.

Mr. Muller suffered a fatal heart attack near San Francisco last month. He died one day before his 71st birthday.

“He was a nice man, a gentleman always,” Farina said. “We talked about Chicago all the time together, and I’ll miss him. He was just a genuinely nice person.”

Director Michael Mann cast Mr. Muller in “Public Enemies,” the Johnny Depp-Christian Bale film about John Dillinger. Other movies Mr. Muller appeared in included “Primal Fear” and “Payback.” He also appeared in the 1993 TV series “The Untouchables.”

Onstage, he could be seen most often performing at Prop Thtr, where he won glowing reviews for a stirring 2010 performance as Gypo Nolan in “The Informer.”

His imposing presence made people think he was even bigger than he really was.

“He must have been about 6-7. He was huge,” said Danny Ahlfeld, a Chicago firefighter and actor.

Chicago writer and actor Mike Houlihan recalled the stir when Turk answered a casting call for Houlihan’s public service film “Takin’ Back Bucktown.”

“Turk walks in, and he’s in a Chicago police uniform, and we thought he was a cop — he had a scary presence,” Houlihan said.

In his younger days, Mr. Muller earned a reputation as a barroom brawler.

“He didn’t always win — but he did most of the time,” said Andy Barry, a college friend.

To Mr. Muller, men were “guys” and women were “dames.”

After meeting the actress Angie Dickinson, he referred to her as “a great broad,” said Paul Carr, resident playwright and ensemble member at Prop Thtr.

A near-photographic memory enabled Mr. Muller to memorize dialogue and poetry.

He became a mentor to actors, writers and directors, said a friend, screenwriter-director Mario Bobzin. He was known for putting theater people in touch with each other to help further their careers. He introduced actors to casting agents and directors, offered advice on headshots and auditions and encouraged playwrights to keep plugging away.

Proteges were often greeted with a hug and, “ ‘How are you doing, lad?’ ’’

“Getting a hug from Turk was like getting hit by a cement truck,” said Carr. “Going drinking with him was like a page out of [author Charles] Bukowski.”

As a kid, Mr. Muller was struck in the eye by a lawn dart and ended up losing the eye. But having a prosthetic eye never slowed him down or limited his actitivies, according to his daughter, Erika Muller. “He actually played semi-professional softball with [former Cub] Joe Pepitone for a while,” she said.

Mr. Muller attended St. Theodore’s grade school at 62nd and Paulina. He played basketball and also was a defensive end on the football team at St. Rita’s High School, friends said. He majored in English at Loyola University, where he also studied Latin and Greek.

He paid the rent with sales jobs until he broke into acting in his late 30s.

“I was a South Side guy with a jock mentality,” he said in an interview in 2010 with the Chicago Sun-Times. “But secretly I wanted to try acting.”

His drive to advance his career prompted him — at age 68 — to move to California. Sometimes, he longed to be cast as a softie instead of a heavy, telling the Sun-Times: “Can’t I do something like Beaver’s dad one of these days?” But he said he realized: “I’m just not a pretty face.”

Mr. Muller loved watching the White Sox and playing 16-inch softball, pitching for a team called the Silver Streaks.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Muller is survived by his wife, Judie; sons Britt and Brock; a sister, Diane Muller, and three brothers, Ron, Dale and Gary. A memorial gathering is planned from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Fuller’s Pub, 3203 W. Irving Park.

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