If you’re a fan of classic B-grade movies, you likely have a few actors whose work you enjoy watching again and again. One of those actors was the late Robert Z’Dar.
He was one of the most popular movie stars in the B-movie industry. Robert began his career in the mid-1980s and became a star in 1988 when he played the lead role in the film Maniac Cop.
He continued to act till his death in 2015. In fact, even after his death, he had a few posthumous releases – including a film released as recently as 2020!
His film career ranged from classic B-movies such as Tango & Cash, Samurai Cop, Mobsters, and Pocket Ninjas.
Let’s look at the incredible life and career of Robert Z’Dar…
Robert James Zdarsky was born on June 3, 1950, in Chicago. He was born with a rare condition called cherubism, which led to him developing an enlarged jawline. This would later lead to his distinctive and menacing appearance, which worked well for his film career.
He began acting during his teens as a student at Proviso West High School. Robert later attended the University of Arizona and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He returned to his native Chicago and began his career, not as an actor but as a police officer! One wonders if he knew then that he’d become a star by playing a ruthless NYPD cop!
After his policing career, he performed in the band Nova Express, wrote jingles for commercials, and even danced as a member of the Chippendales troupe. But he knew that he destined for bigger things.
In the 1980s, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a film career. Before long, he began to make his name in popular B-movies…
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In 1985, Robert landed his first role in the B-movie Hellhole. This was a women-in-prison film which was a popular genre that first came to prominence in the 1970s. The film was about a woman who gets committed to a mental institution run by a mad scientist. Robert played a supporting role in the film and credited as Robert Darcy.
He clearly loved the experience of acting, and he made an impression with his role. He continued to act in B-movies throughout the 1980s including Hot Chili, The Night Stalker, Cherry 2000, The Killing Game, and Grotesque.
But it was in 1988 when his career took off. He played the role of Matt Cordell in the film Maniac Cop directed by Bill Lustig and written by Larry Cohen. The film is considered a cult classic and spawned two sequels. In fact, Robert interviewed for a special edition DVD of the film where he fondly recalled memories of working on the film.
In Maniac Cop, his character is a police officer who gets slain in prison after being wrongfully imprisoned for police brutality. He “wakes up” as an undead cop and begins to wreak havoc on others. This film showed that Robert Z’Dar had an incredible knack for playing antagonists and frightening characters.
While the film didn’t receive too many favorable reviews by critics, it’s a favorite for fans of B-movies and exploitation films. Comedian Neil Cicierega recorded a song called “Two Trucks” in which he mentioned the film and Robert Z’Dar!
He ended the decade playing the character “Face” in the action film Tango & Cash featuring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. This one of the few mainstream films he appeared in, and just as he did in B-movies, he managed to steal the show. Whenever he appeared in a film, audiences always took notice of his incredible appearance and memorable acting.
His other notable films in the 1980s included Killing American Style and Young Rebels – both films in which he played the main villain. These films directed by Amir Shervan, who would later direct Robert in a “classic” B-movie released in the 1990s – but we’ll get to that in a moment!
It was clear that Robert destined to work in films for the remainder of his career. It was also clear that he would have one of the most prolific careers of any actor.
In 1990, Robert Z’Dar appeared in the film The Final Sanction, directed by David A. Prior. He had a lead role alongside Ted Prior. Robert played Sergei, a Russian soldier who fights against the American soldier played by Ted Prior. However, the two of them decide that dueling is futile and decide to join hands to fight against both governments who are hell-bent on war. The film largely panned, but this didn’t stop Robert Z’Dar from continuing his acting career.
He appeared in the comedy film A Gnome Called Gnorm, which also released in 1990. Robert also acted in the two sequels to Maniac Cop as well Beastmaster 2.
He acted in the 1991 film Mobsters, which was a crime film that was about the creation of The Commission – the governing body of the American Mafia created by Lucky Luciano. The film starred Christian Slater, Michael Gambon, Patrick Dempsey, Anthony Quinn, and F. Murray Abraham. Robert played the supporting role of Rocco.
That same year he appeared in a straight-to-video action film directed by Amir Shervan, with whom he worked with in the 1980s. The film called Samurai Cop and it’s now considered a cult film. While not strictly a comedy, the film’s hilarious dialogue and low budget has made it one of those “so bad its great” films. Robert Z’Dar played Yamashita, a villainous henchman for the crime boss Okamura. This film is one of Robert’s most famous works and is a great introduction to anyone who isn’t familiar with his career.
In 1993, Robert played the lead role of Sam Hell in the apocalyptic film Return to Frogtown. This is a fantastic film to watch if you’re a fan of films about mutant frogs who are at war with mankind!
He also acted in other science fiction B-movies such as Future War and Pocket Ninjas. He ended the decade playing Assface in the comedy film Tyrone which also starred Ethan Suplee, Kevin Connolly, and Coolio.
Robert certainly didn’t slow down as he entered the third decade of his career. By the time the year 2000 had come along, he had acted every single year! 2001 was the only year when he didn’t have a film release!
He appeared in two episodes of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, which was one of his rare TV appearances. He acted alongside Michael Madsen, Todd Bridges, and Charles Napier in the film The Thief & The Stripper. This was a low-budget crime film which was Robert’s specialty!
But he also branched out to other genres in the 2000s. While he had been in some frightening films before, he began appearing in more horror films during this decade. He appeared in the 2002 horror-comedy film Trance. Robert also appeared in a lead role in the comedy film Mob Daze.
He followed this up with the horror films Vampire Blvd and The Rockville Slayer. Robert continued to act in low-budget horror movies for much of the remainder of the decade. He continued to show how hard-working and dedicated he was to his work. In 2002, he suffered a back injury while working on a film. This didn’t slow him down at all, and he continued to act for the remainder of the decade.
THE FINAL CURTAIN
By the time 2010 came around, Robert Z’Dar was a living legend in the B-movie industry. He appeared in the spoof comedy film Not Another B Movie, which parodied the B-movie industry and the cliches from various films.
Robert acted in the crime film Salvador’s Deli as Salvador, a pizza shop owner who gets mysteriously killed. He played a ghost in the thriller film The Voices from Beyond and had a lead role in the adventure film Death from Above.
He also appeared in a comic version of himself in the short comedy film The Perfect Candidate, where he played Joe Estevez’s running mate as the latter ran for President of the United States!
One of his last major film roles was as Sheriff Dumas in the action film Mountain Mafia. This was a film about a gang based in the Appalachia region. The film released in 2012.
In 2015, Robert had attended the Pensacon convention in Pensacola, Florida. He began experiencing serious chest pains during the event and checked himself into a hospital after the event ended. Robert was hospitalized for a month, and sadly his condition worsened. He died of a cardiac arrest on March 30, 2015, at the age of 64.
He’ll always be remembered as an icon of B-movies and one of the industry’s most prolific actors. In fact, he had a few films that were released posthumously. The most recent film Spring Fever was released in 2020!
This is a comedy-horror film about a spreading infection that’s meant to control the population. Could it have come at a better time? Robert played the supporting role of Roth Chile Deville. This was his last role…but knowing him, we won’t be surprised if there are even more films of his waiting to be released in the coming years!
Are you a fan of Robert Z’Dar?
Do you think that he got his due as a cult film actor? Or do we need to introduce his work to a new generation of cinephiles?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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