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Paul D’Amato Dies: Memorable ‘Slap Shot,’ ‘Deer Hunter’ & ‘Heaven’s Gate’ Actor Was 76

Paul D’Amato, the actor who played the gloriously vicious Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken opposite Paul Newman in Slap Shot, died Monday after a long battle with progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare brain condition that is similar to Parkinson’s disease. D’Amato was 76.

The news was shared online by his longtime partner (and fellow actor) Marina Re.

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D’Amato got the role in Slap Shot in part because he could hold his own on the ice. He played college hockey at Emerson and also for a team called The Reds in a Burlington, VT, league in 1975.

But D’Amato also had screen presence, going toe to toe with Newman as his character’s wild-eyed nemesis from the Syracuse Bulldogs who earned his nickname through his scalpel-like skills with a hockey stick. Newman’s Reggie Dunlop called out McCracken by name during a pregame radio interview, referring to him as the team’s “captain and chief punk.”

Of his first scene with Newman, in which he insults the screen legend’s character, D’Amato said: “I was very nervous and excited at the same time. The scene was pretty simple and straightforward, and I realized that being nervous was no excuse. So, like James Cagney would want, I planted my feet, looked him square in the eye and told him what I thought of him. … It worked out pretty well, butterflies and all.”

He recalled in a 2007 interview that Dr. Hook “was a cross between Dave Schultz [who holds the NHL single-season record for penalty minutes], Bobby Schmautz [called “the worst stickwork offender in the game” by ex-NHL player and ref Paul Stewart] and the shark in Jaws.”

D’Amato’s other notable credits include Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter and notorious Heaven’s Gate as well as F/X and Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait. He also had a bit part — his first screen role — opposite Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force.

On the small screen, he played another hockey player in The Deadliest Season and also appeared on The Six Million Dollar Man, American Playhouse, Law & Order and most recently on ABC’s The Unusuals in 2009.

D’Amato’s Slap Shot co-star Steve Carlson, who had his own memorable turn in the film as Steve Hanson of the Hanson Brothers, remembered D’Amato on X yesterday:

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