Adam Roarke was a popular actor and director who starred in many biker movies in the 1960s and 1970s. He was known for his tough-guy persona, his charismatic presence, and his friendship with Jack Nicholson. He also founded the Film Actors Lab, a training program for aspiring actors in Texas. However, his life was cut short by a sudden heart attack on April 27, 1996, at the age of 58. What was the cause of his death and what led to his downfall? Here is a brief overview of his life and career.
The Rise to Fame
Adam Roarke was born as Richard Jordan Gerler on August 8, 1937, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were both entertainers: his father was a vaudeville comedian and his mother was a chorus girl. He grew up in a rough neighborhood and joined a street gang as a teenager. He later enlisted in the Army and served in Germany. After his discharge, he moved to Los Angeles and studied acting at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. He changed his name to Adam Roarke and signed a contract with Universal Studios in 1957. He made his film debut in 13 West Street (1962) and appeared in several TV shows, including Star Trek, The Virginian, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Roarke’s breakthrough came when he starred in Hells Angels on Wheels (1967), a biker movie produced by American International Pictures (AIP). He played the leader of a motorcycle gang who befriended a gas station attendant played by Jack Nicholson. The film was a hit and launched Roarke’s career as a biker movie star. He went on to appear in more AIP films, such as The Savage Seven (1968), Psych-Out (1968), Hell’s Belles (1969), and The Losers (1970). He also worked with other major studios and actors, such as John Wayne in El Dorado (1966), Anthony Perkins in Play It As It Lays (1972), Peter Fonda in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974), and Peter O’Toole in The Stunt Man (1980).
The Fall from Grace
Roarke’s success came with a price. He struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression. He also had a turbulent personal life. He married twice and had two children, but both marriages ended in divorce. He had a reputation for being difficult and unreliable on set. He often clashed with directors, producers, and co-stars. He also suffered from health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. His career declined in the 1980s, as he found fewer roles and opportunities in Hollywood.
In 1982, Roarke moved to Dallas, Texas, where he founded the Film Actors Lab, a school and workshop for aspiring actors. He also acted in and co-directed some low-budget independent films, such as Trespasses (1986) and Final Cut (1987). He mentored many young actors, such as Lou Diamond Phillips, who became his close friend and collaborator. He tried to overcome his demons and rebuild his life, but he never fully recovered from his past.
The Cause of Death
On April 27, 1996, Roarke died in his sleep at his home in Euless, Texas. He apparently suffered a heart attack, which was the official cause of his death. He was 58 years old. He was survived by his second wife, Carla DeLane Roarke, and his two children, Jordan Gerler and Tara Roarke. His funeral was held on May 1, 1996, at the Bluebonnet Hills Funeral Home in Colleyville, Texas. He was buried at the Bluebonnet Hills Memorial Park.
Roarke left behind a legacy of talent, charisma, and passion. He was a pioneer of the biker movie genre and a respected actor and director. He was also a generous and supportive teacher and mentor. He influenced and inspired many people in the film industry and beyond. He will always be remembered as a biker movie star with a big heart.