“Actor Profile: Billy Drago (1945-2019)” by S.M. O’Connor

William Eugene Burrows, Jr. (1945-2019) who acted under the stage name Billy Drago, died on June 24, 2019 as a result of a stroke.  He is best known for his performance as the Chicago Outfit’s Frank Nitti (1886-1943) in The Untouchables (1987),[1] directed by Brian De Palma and written by David Mamet, but he played villains in many films and television shows due to his fierce appearance.

He played the villainous Deputy Mather in the supernatural western Pale Rider (1985), which starred Clint Eastwood and Michael Moriarty and that Eastwood directed.  More recently, Drago played “Papa Jupiter,” the head of a psychopathic family of mutant murderers, rapists, and cannibals in the 2006 remake of the horror film The Hills Have Eyes.

On television, he played John Bly, the gang leader who killed Marshall Brisco County, Sr. in six episodes of the western/science fiction/fantasy series The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. (1993-94), which starred Bruce Campbell as the eponymous Brisco County, Jr.   He also had a recurring role as the demon Barbus in seven episodes of Charmed (1998-2006) from 1999 to 2004.  In 2000, he played “hoodoo man” Orell Peatie on The X-Files (1993-2002) Season 7 episode “Theef,” which was a monster-of-the-week episode rather than an episode about the larger narrative of alien invasions and government conspiracies.

Born in Hugoton, Kansas to William Eugene Burrows, Sr. and Gladys Marie Wilcox, he was a journalist for the Associated Press news service and worked in radio before he became an actor.[2]  His father was said to have American Indian ancestry and his mother was said to have Romany (Gypsy) ancestry.[3]  He had over 100 film and television credits.

Burrows had two sons: Darren E. Burrows and Derrick Burrows.  Darren E. Burrows is best known for his performance as Ed Chigliak in Northern Exposure (1990-1995).  Like his father, he appeared in an episode of The X-Files, but it was actually the season before his father appeared in the show.[4]  He wed Melinda Delgado in 1993 and they have four children.

In 1980, Billy Drago wed the film and television actress and acting coach Sandra Silvana Gallardo (1953-2012), who used the stage name Silvana Gallardo.  She died in Paris, Kentucky in 2012.

Billy Drago is survived by his sister Patty; brother, Steve; sons Darren Burrows and Derrick Burrows; at least one daughter-in-law; and at least four grandchildren.[5]  Laura Ortiz, who appeared in The Hills Have Eyes with Billy Drago, paid tribute to him on Instagram.

Credit: James Obie Caption: This video is a tribute to Billy Drago’s performance as Frank Nitti in The Untouchables (1987).

Credit: OSSA Caption: This video is a tribute to Max Wright, Billy Drago, and Beth Chapman, who all passed away this week.


[1] The film was quite entertaining, but inaccurately depicted Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) as having killed Nitti to avenge Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery).  In reality, Jimmy Malone was still alive when the film was released and Nitti succeeded Al Capone (1899-1947) as Boss of the Chicago Outfit.

[2] Ryan Parker, “Billy Drago, Actor in ‘The Untouchables,’ Dies at 73,” The Hollywood Reporter, 26 June, 2019 (https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/untouchables-actor-bill-drago-dies-at-73-1221296) Accessed 06/27/19

[3] Pat Saperstein, “Billy Drago, “Untouchables’ Star, Dies at 73,” Variety, 26 June, 2019 (https://variety.com/2019/film/news/billy-drago-dead-dies-untouchables-1203254180/) Accessed 06/27/19

[4] The Season 6 episode “Monday” was also a monster-of-the-week episode, but it involved the whole world be stuck in a time loop – the way Phil Conners (Bill Murray) is stuck in a time loop in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in the movie Groundhog Day (1993), but was inspired by the Twilight Zone episode “Shadow Play” – instead of having a monster.

[5] Parker

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