Celebrating Seniors - Tom Skerritt is 83, Part 2

Tom Skerritt, Part 2: The Dead Zone to Picket Fences (1980-1996)

Tom Skerritt, Ellen Burstyn and Gordon Pinsent co-starred in the biographical drama Silence of the North (1981); Ellen Burstyn had appeared in an episode of the western TV series Laramie 18 years earlier, in 1963. Skerritt’s Alien co-star Yaphet Kotto appeared with him in the crime drama Fighting Back (1982), along with Patti LuPone and Michael Sarrazin. Skerritt’s TV hospital drama series Ryan’s Four co-starring Tim Daly, Nicolas Coster, and Dirk Blocker was cancelled after only 5 episodes in 1983.

The Dead Zone (1983) starring Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen (who had appeared on an episode of Lancer with Skerritt in 1969), Brooke Adams, Anthony Zerbe, and Nicholas Campbell, featured now 50+ Tom Skerritt as Sheriff BannermanThe Dead Zone was a modest hit with baby boomer audiences. Below, a clip from The Dead Zone that features Nicholas Campbell, Tom Skerritt, and Christopher Walken. (Graphic Content Warning)

Throughout the 1980’s and the remainder of his 50+ years, Tom Skerritt appeared in several TV movies such as Calendar Girl Murders (1984) co-starring Sharon Stone, Robert Morse, and Alan Thicke; and A Touch of Scandal (1984) with Angie Dickinson, Robert Loggia, and Don Murray (his-co-star from 1964’s One Man’s Way).

Tom Skerritt co-starred with Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap II (1986) and in the western Poker Alice (1987) with Elizabeth Taylor and George Hamilton.

Skerritt’s feature films in the 1980’s included the crime drama Wisdom (1986) with Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore; the comedy Maid to Order (1987) starring Ally Sheedy, Beverly D’Angelo, Michael Ontkean, and Valerie Perrine; and the ’50’s romantic thriller The Big Town (1987) with Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, Tommy Lee Jones, Bruce Dern, and Lee Grant.

One of the biggest box-office hits of the 1980’s was the Air Force themed romantic drama Top Gun (1986) starring Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Michael Ironside, Tim Robbins, and Meg Ryan. Tom Skerritt co-starred in Top Gun as a tough Air Force flight instructor, perhaps hearkening back to his own days 30+ years before in the U.S. Air Force during the 1950’s. Made on a budget of $15 million, Top Gun brought in over $350 million at the box office thanks to baby boomers and fans of all ages. Below, a movie clip from Top Gun featuring Tom Skerritt, Tom Cruise, and Val Kilmer.

Tom Skerritt and his second wife Sue had begun visiting Skerritt’s brother in Seattle, Washington and ended up buying a property on Lopez Island, Washington (south of Victoria, British Columbia and north of Seattle, Washington). In the latter part of the 1980’s, they built a bed & breakfast and lived there part-time. 

During the late 1980’s Skerritt’s television and movie career, which had never been idle, picked up steam. He had a recurring role as Rebecca’s (Kirstie Alley) boss Evan Drake on the hit comedy Cheers from 1987-1988. Tom Skerritt appeared in several more TV movies including the mystery-thrillers The Heist (1989) co-starring Pierce Brosnan; Moving Target (1988) co-starring Jason Bateman and Jack Wagner; and Nightmare at Bittercreek (1988) with Lindsay Wagner.

Tom Skerritt played actress Sally Field’s husband on the box-office hit ensemble weeper Steel Magnolias (1989). Co-stars in the large cast included Shirley MacLaine (his co-star from 1977’s The Turning Point), Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, Julia Roberts, Sam Shepard, and Dylan McDermott. Dylan McDermott and Tom Skerrit would both appear in the TV mini-series The Grid (2004). Below, Sally Field, Tom Skerrit, and Dylan McDermott are featured in a clip from Steel Magnolias.

As the 1980’s ended and the 1990’s began, Tom Skerritt appeared in the CIA thriller TV movie Red King, White Knight (1989) with Max Von Sydow and Helen Mirren. He co-starred in the action-comedy movie The Rookie (1990) with Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen, and co-starred in the TV mystery-thrillers The China Lake Murders (1990) and Child in the Night (1990) with JoBeth Williams, Season Hubley, and a young Elijah Wood.

The TV comedy movie She’ll Take Romance (1990) starred Linda Evans and Tom Skerritt, 25 years after they both first appeared together in Those Calloways (1965)

Sue and Tom Skerritt divorced in 1992, the same year he appeared in no less than 5 feature films, 2 TV movies, and began starring in his own TV series. Among his on-screen film projects released that year:

  • In Sickness and in Health (1992) – a TV drama co-starring Lesley Ann Warren and Marg Helgenberger.
  • Getting Up and Going Home (1992) – a TV romance-drama starring Tom Skerritt as a middle-aged lawyer having affairs with three women (played by Blythe Danner, Roma Downey and Julianne Phillips).
  • Poison Ivy (1992) – A thriller starring Drew Barrymore as the title character, with co-stars Tom Skerritt, Sara Gilbert, Cheryl Ladd and Leonardo DiCaprio in a small role. 
  • Knight Moves (1992) –  A mystery co-starring Christopher Lambert, Daniel Baldwin, and Diane Lane, one of Tom Skerritt’s co-stars in The Big Town (1987).
  • Singles (1992) – A romantic comedy with a large ensemble cast that includes Tom Skerritt, Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Matt Dillon (Skerritt’s other co-star in 1987’s The Big Town), Bill Pullman, Eric Stoltz, Jeremy Piven, Peter Horton, and Ally Walker. Singles was filmed in Seattle, near Skerritt’s home.

In the feature film A River Runs Through It (1992) directed by Tom Skerritt’s War Hunt (1962) co-star and friend, Robert Redford. In A River Runs Through It, Tom Skerrit is the family patriarch, minister Rev. Maclean. Actors Brad Pitt and Craig Sheffer play Skerritt’s on-screen sons, while Brenda Blethyn plays his wife. A River Runs Through It received some critical acclaim and did well at the box office. Below, a clip from A River Runs Through It, featuring Tom Skerritt as a young father.

The role that baby boomers and older adults are likely to best remember Tom Skerritt from is his starring role as Sheriff Jimmy Brock on Picket Fences from 1992-1996. Other regular cast members on Picket Fences were Kathy Baker (who played Skerritt’s on-screen wife), Costas Mandylor, Lauren Holly, Holly Marie Combs, Don Cheadle, and Ray Walston, whom Skerritt had worked with 28 years earlier when he appeared in an episode of My Favorite Martian in 1964.

Tom Skerritt was nominated three times for Screen Actors Guild Awards, and twice for Golden Globe and Emmy Awards, for his performances as the leading actor in the drama Picket Fences; he won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1993. During the run of Picket Fences, Skerritt directed 3 episodes of the series and his son Matt Skerritt appeared in one of the episodes he directed.

After a very busy decade of work and change in his personal life; Tom Skerritt’s 50+ years and his 16-year-marriage to second wife Susan (Sue) Aran were both over as 1992 came to a close.

Picket Fences ended in 1996 and 62-year-old single “sex symbol” Tom Skerritt told People that he was looking for a woman of intelligence, humor and maturity. “I have met some very bright younger women but there’s just so much disparity in terms of experience. Confidence comes with age.” He also spoke about the screenplays that he had recently finished after starting to write them 20 years earlier, because he’d had no time due to work and family commitments.

Tom Skerritt was a co-owner of the Idle Spur restaurant and Crested Butte Brewery in Crested Butte, Colorado from approximately 1996 until it closed in the 2000’s; his daughter Erin (from his first marriage to Charlotte Shanks) and her husband Randy Garcia helped to run the restaurant with Garcia’s family.

More Tom Skerritt:

Tom Skerritt, Part 1: MASH to Alien (1933-1979)

Tom Skerritt, Part 3: Contact to Brothers & Sisters (1997-2016)

*Images are public domain or Creative Commons licensed & sourced via Wikimedia Commons, Vimeo, YouTube, or Flickr, unless otherwise noted*

Anita Hamilton

50+ World editor & writer Anita Hamilton's articles are inspired by real historical events, places, and people. Her travel experiences, a lifelong keen interest in history, art, vintage music, books, silent films, classic movies, "golden age" television shows, fashion, & entertainment in general - combined with years of research - make her a subject matter expert with acquired knowledge & expertise on these topics. This, and a loving and supportive family complete with 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.

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