Nov 9, 2023
Barry Corbin has been acting for more than six decades, a career that has seen him take more than two hundred roles onstage, on TV, and in the movies. They’ve mostly been supporting roles, often authority figures-a natural fit, given Barry’s large frame and confident presence. He’s played fifteen sheriffs, several generals, a few wise uncles, a swaggering astronaut, and a hard-core basketball coach. He’s also played psychotic patriarchs, wealthy Texans, Santa Claus, and Lyndon Johnson. Even when his characters are overbearing or murderous, Barry has always found a way to make them human and likable-so much so that he often steals the show, as he did portraying General Jack Beringer in WarGames and astronaut Maurice Minnifield in Northern Exposure. Known as a character actor, he always seems like he’s genuinely enduring whatever his character is enduring-while also somehow remaining Barry Corbin.
Leonard Barrie Corbin was born October 16, 1940, in the ranching and cotton town of Lamesa, sixty miles south of Lubbock. His paternal grandfather had moved to Lamesa from Lampasas in the twenties because he wanted to raise cotton and the land there looked good. “It was beautiful green country,” Barry says, “like the Garden of Eden.”
Barry’s parents, Kilmer and Alma Corbin, were schoolteachers who married young. Kilmer had been stricken by polio as a child, which limited the use of his right hand and left him unable to do farmwork. He developed into a bookish kid. Alma (who had been born in a covered wagon on the trip to Lamesa) named their first son after J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. When Barrie reached school age, he became “Barry” to differentiate himself from a female classmate who had the same name.
Though his parents weren’t horse people, Barry spent summers at his grandfather’s, who put him in the saddle every day. He loved the feeling. “A horse wants to do whatever you want him to do,” Barry says. “If you want to compare it to being one entity, you’re the brain, and the horse is the body. So you’ve got to be in sync with the horse. Got to make him think whatever you’re gonna do is coordinated. And make him think it’s his idea. Then you get along.”