Felix Silla has died. Known primarily for his work in genre film and television—which saw him appear in everything from Return Of The Jedi to Batman Returns to the role of the hirsute Cousin Itt in the original Addams Family—Silla was a veteran stuntman and actor who spent most of his career bringing life to iconic costumed characters. Per Rolling Stone, his death was announced online this weekend by his former Buck Rogers co-star, Gil Gerard. Silla died of pancreatic cancer; he was 84.
Originally trained as a circus performer in Italy, Silla moved to the United States in the mid-’50s, touring with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and developing skills as a bareback rider, trapeze artist, and more. He parlayed these abilities into acting work in the 1960s, often serving as a stand-in or stunt performer for child actors in dangerous scenes. He got his break into acting work in 1965, when his agent sent him to audition to play Cousin Itt—a role that wasn’t actually described to Silla until he was actually on the set of The Addams Family, getting covered in a giant suit made of hair. (It was not, as he later described it, an especially comfortable part.)
From there, Silla became one of Hollywood’s go-to costumed performers, elevated by his physical talents as a performer, his well-known sense of humor, and his willingness to spend hours on any given day in heavy or uncomfortable accoutrements. Over the next 20 years, he’d become a regular for Sid and Marty Kroft (appearing frequently on both H.R. Pufnstuf and Lidsville), take on the physical role of the robot Twiki on Buck Rogers, and serve as the alien who inexplicably serves as a plot point in Meatballs Part II. Through his stuntwork, he also continued to make connections and friends who would serve him well in his career, most notably George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who used him as a stunt performer in E.T. and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, and who made use of his numerous talents as the hang-gliding Ewok in Return Of The Jedi. (And when Mel Brooks wanted to poke fun at Lucas’ opus with Spaceballs a few laters, Silla got the call for that, too.)
In an industry always willing to force actors of his stature into a particular niche, Silla found ways to thrive. His resumé includes many of the most successful and beloved films of all time, and, in interviews, he clearly comes off as a man happy to have contributed his talents to such a wide number of beloved characters. Even after he stopped acting in the 1990s, Silla continued to be a fixture on the convention scene (often with Gerard), traveling the country, and meeting with fans of his decades of work.