What the Hell Happened to Jeffrey Jones?

Jeffrey Jones

Jeffrey Jones

Jeffrey Jones is an actor most renowned for his roles playing the strange, generally unlikable comic foils to the audience’s hero. Jones is more than that, though. He is a purist who greatly values acting and takes the craft very seriously. He spent years honing his ability in acting schools, and many more in theater, including Broadway. When he imported that to the silver screen, it panned out well. Recently though, things haven’t been going so hot for Jones. Roles have dried up; he has been arrested on numerous occasions, the jailing centering around his status as a sex offender.

What the hell happened?

After graduating from a prestigious Vermont boarding school, the Buffalo native embarked on the career path he had chosen for himself – medicine. Not acting. Not yet.

While a premed student at Lawrence University, Jones began to appear in some university stage productions.  Apparently, he shone through the pack like a golden wolf, as the famed Tyrone Guthrie, stage director, invited him to the company at his Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Having switched career paths, he went to London to study at the city’s Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and then the Stratford Theater in Ontario.

His stage career arc took him, eventually to Broadway, where he starred opposite folks like Sigourney Weaver, the late David Bowie, Meryl Streep, even this man, who still haunts the theater, his peg leg betraying his presence.


Eventually, having risen to the cream of the crop on stage, Jones tried his hand at filmed work. He started off small, beginning with a bit part in the Jon Voight political drama The Revolutionary. It was released to little fanfare critically or commercially.

The Revolutionary

The Revolutionary – 1970

This was to be his last movie/TV role for twelve years, as the Broadway train kept on rolling during that period. After which, he embarked on a screen journey lasting his whole career to date.

The Soldier

The Soldier – 1982

Sans an uncredited role as “Guest” in The Wedding and a host of unremarkable TV guest appearances, Jones’ next appearance was in the Cold War action film The Soldier as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense, where he assists the guy who “doesn’t assign, but unleashes” Ken Wahl as the Soldier. The movie received little attention from either side of the aisle.

Next up was Jones’ first role that anyone actually looked up to notice, Clive Barlow in Easy Money.

Jones - Easy Money

Jeffrey Jones – Easy Money – 1983

Rodney Dangerfield yuks it up as a gambling, drinking, marijuana-smoking family man (?!) trying to clean up his messy act to get a load of a department store inheritance. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays his daughter, and Joe Pesci plays his friend (think less Goodfellas, more Gone Fishin’). Jones meanwhile plays a man hired to keep Rodney from receiving a single penny.

The movie performed decently at the box office, and critics were so-so.

Next for Jones was one of his most enduring roles as the blue-eyed Habsburg Emperor Joseph II in the Vienna-set period drama Amadeus.

Jones - Amedeus

Jeffrey Jones – Amadeus – 1984

Salieri and Mozart enjoyed one of the most famous, and productive rivalries, ever gifted upon to world. They made Federer/Nadal seem like two puppies rolling after a tennis ball. Their rivalry is documented on film with Tom Hulce as Mozart, F. Murray Abraham as Salieri, and Jones as the pompous, bloated Emperor. He is Mozart’s patron, however, so we kinda have him to thank for that.  Thanks, man.

Jeffrey Jones is also thanking the Emperor, but not because he is a classical music fanatic. More so because the role is one of Jones’ most famous.  Probably, if forced to decide, I would say his second-most famous. Though Jones himself was not nominated, the movie swept the Oscars like fingers gliding from key C8 to key A0. 8 for 11 in Oscar wins. When Laurence Olivier announced the best picture winner, he didn’t list off the other nominees. He simply said “The winner for this is Amadeus“. Maurice Jarre won for Best Score, saying “thankfully Mozart wasn’t eligible”. Critics hated it though. Ha, still paying attention? Ok. No, critics and audiences adored the movie.

Next: Howard the Duck and Ferris Bueller


Posted on January 15, 2016, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 52 Comments.

  1. Oakleya77 has returned with another great WTHH article. This one is a little different in that Jeffrey Jones was primarily a character actor rather than a lead. One of the things I wanted to do this year was to do shorter articles that focus on more obscure actors and this article fits the bill very nicely. Also, as we are looking back at 1986, Jeffrey Jones is best known for his role in Ferris Bueller which was released this year. Well done, Oakleya77! Thanks and welcome back!


  2. The Jeffrey Jones WTHH article is officially number 100!


      • Jeffrey Jones is also incidentally, the fourth “Beetlejuice” cast member to get a WTHHT article (following in the footsteps of Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, and Winona Ryder and possibly in the future, Alec Baldwin to make it #5) and the third “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” cast member to get one (following Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey and possibly and inevitably, Charlie Sheen).


  3. Nicely done Oakleya.
    there are some interesting sounding movies here I never heard of, which is always part of the fun of reading the WTHH series.
    As far as what happened to him…. ewww.


  4. Just this summer I saw The Hanoi Hilton on TV, one of those subchannels on cable all the local network affiliates have now. It was a very interesting movie with Michael Moriarty in the lead. Jones was only one of several different actors who would have been recognizable in the late 80s and early 90s who populated the prison. The production values were pretty slim (not that you need much beyond prison garb and a drab cell set), but it was all around a decent movie.


  5. Too bad about Jeffrey Jones’ off-camera life, but I’ve always found him a welcome edition to many films (that includes the goofy 1995 film “Houseguest” starring Sinbad). His characters of Mr. Rooney, The Amazing Criswell from “Ed Wood”, and the dad from “Beetlejuice” are my favorites.


  6. I don`t want to critise your choice lebeau but jefferey jones is a odd one he never had hype. He was seen as character actor no one expected his career to get bigger.


    • The choice of subjects wasn’t mine, but I think Jones makes for a good subject. The fact that Principal Rooney is now a registered sex offender makes Jones infamous if not famous. This is the 100th entry in the WTHH series. A lot of the big names have already been done. So one direction for the series to go in is smaller actors. I think you will be seeing more of that as the series continues.


      • It makes me wonder if Stephen Collins will eventually get a WTHHT retrospective:

        Stephen Collins made a name of himself beginning with his critically-praised role in Star Trek The Motion Picture and the cult series Tales of the Gold Monkey, but he wouldn’t hit the big time until seventeen years later when he was cast as the Reverend Eric Camden in the television drama 7th Heaven, which became the highest-rated program of The WB for much of the network’s existence and caused studios left and right to offer Collins roles in various films and shows. However, none of these roles offered Collins the star power he had with 7th Heaven, and thus the spotlight began turning away from him, especially following the cancellation of 7th Heaven after just one season on The CW. Since then, Collins tried to find suitable roles and avoid being cast as Eric Camden again, to little success. He made several appearances in the ABC series Private Practice and Scandal, but all that became overshadowed by his highly-publicized divorce with Faye Grant and the nasty proceedings that followed. And then came TMZ leaking an audio tape of Collins admitting to Grant during a private therapy session that he had molested several children decades prior, and the Hype Backlash came. Role Ending Misdemeanor doesn’t even begin to describe the immediate fallout from the scandal, such as his character in Scandal getting McLeaned, Collins resigning from his position at the Screen Actors Guild board, getting fired from production of the sequel to Seth MacFarlane’s Ted, and multiple stations and networks yanking reruns of 7th Heaven from their schedules. With all these events, it’s safe to say Collins may never be able to repair his career.


        • Wow, Stephen Collins: that’s real tough. That doesn’t sound like an accident (unlike Brethartfan mentioning Rob Lowe, and his situation). Stephen Collins didn’t seem tricked:-(


      • Maybe this is a big apples and oranges argument, but it’s kind of interesting that Matthew Broderick, while not exactly the big star that he was during his heyday, has to be reminded by his harshest critics that he’s literally responsible for the deaths of two women in Ireland back in 1988, is still able to get work while his “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” co-star Jeffrey Jones is absolutely persona non grata in Hollywood. It just goes to show that the biggest way to kill your career in Hollywood fast is to be an alleged pedophile (unless of course, your Woody Allen or Roman Polanski).


  7. I enjoyed this look at Jones a lot. Not many actors have films like Amadeus, Beetlejuice, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ed Wood, and Sleepy Hollow on their resumes.
    But I will object to the use of the phrase “just a character actor.” Try making just a few movies without the services of any character actors and you’ll find your work is suffering. I know this phrase was being used to discuss his place in the world of marketing movies, but the phrase carries the impression that character actors are “less than” even if that’s not your intent. There are other ways of expressing the realities of the business without making the indispensable work supporting players do seem unimportant. I often find them more interesting than the leads, personally.

    Good job on the article though. I’m happy to see you contributing again!


    • I went back and looked for the phrase “just a character actor” in the article. I didn’t find that exact phrase. The only time the term “character actor” was used was in the closing:

      These villainous parts kept coming, and when he tried to become a heroic lead, you can see why it didn’t work. Jones’, with his uttermost deadpan, imposing height, and boring blue gaze was not to be a heroic character, so in that sense he was nothing more than a character actor.

      I can see how “nothing more than a character actor” could be seen as dismissive. Especially by someone who has worked as a character actor. But I think the intent is pretty clear. Overall, I thought Oakleya77 showed respect for the work character actors do. I took that line as an effort to proactively tackle a criticism he knew would come up in the comments section. And indeed, it has. See the comment from Brethartfan:

      jefferey jones is a odd one he never had hype. He was seen as character actor no one expected his career to get bigger.

      Taken as a whole, I don’t think the article is dismissive of supporting players.


      • Yes, “nothing more ” was the phrase. Sorry, I was on my phone which sometimes makes it hard to go back and look while I’m typing. I took no offense because I knew what the intent was, but I do think it could be written in a way so the question never even pops to mind. Even placing quotes around the phrase would work as a recognition of the possible objections to his inclusion while also distancing the writer from any unintended insult.
        It’s a small thing. I really enjoyed the article.


      • I did wonder if Jeffrey Jones was more or less “disqualified” from WTHHT status because he was always more of a character actor than what could be considered an A-list, box office star or an up and comer who never lived up to his potential/hype.


      • One thing that I took away from this besides how of course Jeffrey Jones’ personal issues interfered with his career, is that some actors aren’t always suited for playing straight-laced, heroic leads. I don’t necessarily say this because of overall talent but in the case for an actor like Jeffrey Jones, his look generally eccentric aura (which is probably why he was so perfect for a quirky, eccentric filmmaker like Tim Burton).


  8. True but as you mentioned in the blog you did about Travolta you would not add William H Macy on there because even though his recent films have not performed well he primary a character so its relied on him for his films to make be hits.Which is why William H macy can not be put on there unlike his Wild Hogs costars. Same could apply to Jefferey Jones. Plus had he not had that scandal his career would be the same anyways supporting actor in big roles. Most people know him more by character he plays then actors name. He is no different then a lot of character actors .Are you going to blog on a lot of them. I bet when someone sees his movie on tv no one goes thats Jeffery Jones they go that is Ed Rooney.I think Charlie Sheen ,Rob Lowe ,Kevin Spacey or even Michael Cera would make a better candidate for the list.


    • I wonder if Rob Lowe is a default consideration for a WTHHT because his association w/ the Brat Pack, plus his whole sex-tape controversy w/ the under-aged girl back in 1988.


      • He’s a bit too active today, don’t ya think?


        • I always assumed that part of the reason why Rob Lowe has still been able to be more active per se than his fellow Brat Packers is because of his “matinee idol” looks. What I mean is that Lowe looks more like what you would want in a leading man than say Emilio Estevez or Judd Nelson. Also, Lowe seems to be willing to make fun of is rather tawdry past/image (Emilio Estevez on the other hand, seems to be extremely embarrassed by his Brat Pack past, and tries so desperately hard to be taken seriously as an artist) like those weirdly creepy DirecTV ads or his slime-ball character in “Wayne’s World”.


  9. I was not trying to put down character actor a`lot of best actors are character actors like Ruffalo. However as good as this Jones blog was I assumed the only people that would included on here where actors that where at one point huge but career took big dive like costner or actors that Hollywood thought would be big did not live up to Hollywood expectations like Jude. I did not think Jones fit either but I do enjoy your blogs. I can be vocal but your blogs are insightful and I think you are fair you spend as much time honoring the success of actors career as you do mentioning their flops.


  10. If you’re considering smaller actors, you should do Randy Quaid


  11. Good article, oakleya77!

    I remember Jones from watching a lot of those late 80s/early 90s movies as a kid, especially the comedies. Incidentally, I think the first one I saw him in was Hanoi Hilton.

    I had heard he was a registered sex offender, but I didn’t know specifics about his case and had no idea about the subsequent arrests. Ick.


  12. Randy quad was always a character actor too. He barely had lead roles. Its not like his career was aimed to be huge either before he went nuts. In fact I think more people talked about him more after his freak out. There are a lot of character actors you can do. What makes jones and Quaid stand out from other characters is their off screen life really derailed their career. But since obviously we have 80s theme going why not do a blog on Kevin Bacon. After Footloose people thought would be a huge star. However he was fearing he was turning into a pop culture icon more then serious actor so he took on a lot of serious roles so he would not be typecast. Audiences did not take kindly to seeing bacon in serious roles so they strayed away from his flicks in 80s and he become in a slump.Then came the success of JFK .He then realized he can have a better chance of appearing in quaility flicks if he was not the guy starring which he embarked in successful career as accalimed character actor with occasional leading role woodsman.


  13. He did but he was not that talked before his flip out. I can kind of guess why you put him on the list. The blog can be for actors who just career went down due to personal demons, Much like sheen only difference sheen at one point in his career was seen as potentially have a huge leading man career but blew up due to drugs and bad choices. Like I mentioned before his brother Dennis is perfect candidate. Hes had his fair share of flops that dampened his chances of being huge star. A magizne dubbed him poor mans harrison ford


  14. I see it is i guess. You ever consider kevin bacon


  15. I did not care for House guest but I am impressed that is departure off Phil Hartman douche bags roles. He usually plays jerk but this gave him chance to play a sweet guy.,


  16. I have a bit of a soft spot for Easy Money. Basically if you like Rodney Dangerfield then you should like Easy Money. I even enjoy it more than Back To School even though Easy Money was only a modest hit in comparison. Jeffrey Jones was very good in it too.

    And Oaklaya, your description “Rodney Dangerfield yuks it up as a gambling, drinking, marijuana-smoking family man (?!)….” almost made me do a spit take! Well done sir.


  17. I would say my favorite of his TV guest roles was as Sir Swami in the two-part Justice League episode “Legends”. (Sir Swami is based on a Golden Age comic book villain called the Wizard.) He did a fair homage to the campy villain performances on the Adam West Batman show.


  18. Rob lowe may be a bit to active but he along with many brat pack members never lived up to their true potential career wise. People thought lowe would be huge star.


  19. What celebrity’s career never recovered after a controversial incident?

    And The Crucible with Daniel Day Lewis. He was in some pretty high profile movies. After his arrest in 2003, the only film roles he was credited with was Who’s Your Caddy and 10.0 Earthquake.



    Jeffrey Jones (“Dr. Walter Jenning / Dark Overlord of the Universe”): Howard was supposed to be a totally new technical advance in film. When I was recruited to be in Howard the Duck, he was going to be a computer generated character and it didn’t work. We were at Industrial Light & Magic for a reason. ILM made what ultimately became Pixar, and that’s what they were working towards. Willard and Gloria pulled the trigger on the film, but couldn’t make it work. My understanding was that it was going to have a kind of a serious undertone, like Stranger in a Strange Land, with the takeaway being that Howard is as much of a human as anyone else – except he’s a duck.

    Jeffrey Jones: There was a puppeteer who wanted to be a makeup artist and they said, “Why don’t you create Jeffrey’s makeup for the Dark Overlord?” The guy didn’t have a clue. I called it a day when he painted me blue. No brushes, he was using finger paint. I looked like the Blue Man Group. Then they hired Tom and Bari Burman, who were real makeup artists. I was happy they did.

    Jeffrey Jones: Poor Willard and Gloria had such problems. The studio said, “Okay, make it,” then they decided how much they were going to spend on the movie, and it just wasn’t enough. I suspect it cost more in the long run than if they would have adequately financed it from the start.

    Jeffrey Jones: They had to sew him into the costume. They’d get him already, go to shoot, and he’d have to go to the bathroom. It would be another hour and half of getting him in and out of the costume so he could pee.

    Jeffrey Jones: Willard and Gloria had a daughter who was three then. She was fine with me normally, but every time I would be on set in my Dark Overlord makeup, she’d be absolutely terrified. It wasn’t cute. She was really scared.

    Jeffrey Jones: Crews would get fired on a regular basis, and it was not necessarily because they weren’t doing well. People had to get fired because there had to be a reason that we weren’t making the progress that we should have been making.

    Jeffrey Jones: When we were in San Francisco. I’d go to comic book stores and buy up all the Howard the Duck comics I could find. I thought if the film were successful, I’d be able to sell them. I still have them. Anybody want some Howard the Duck comics?

    Jeffrey Jones: I don’t think I saw the whole thing until just before we had to go trot out the canned stories for the press. Sometimes, if they’re not all that confident they have a winner, they want to keep things quiet until the last moment, and then give a movie a blast of publicity in hopes of selling as many tickets as possible before everybody says it’s a stinker.

    Jeffrey Jones: You never know how things are going to turn out. Frequently actors are not blamed for the movies they are in because we don’t really have any power. You do what you are asked and hope that the editor treats it kindly.


  21. I was gonna link his Megan’s Law Page entry but thought better of it. I been on the wrong side of the gavel over drugs, so as despicable as those types of crimes are, I can’t really judge. Lord knows so many people are set up by bitter ex-wives, etc. Anyhow, its on you to go look it up. I always think of his portrayal of Criswell in the fantastic “Ed Wood” when his name comes up, so there is that, Its been forever since I posted. Hi, LB! December is 12 years clean, been busy but still read you plenty.


    • Hey TM! Long time no see. Thanks for checking in and glad to hear things are going well. Congrats on the coming anniversary. That’s something to be proud of!

      Today was Jones’ first birthday since Oakleya wrote his WTHH entry. So, per tradition, I posted a photo gallery. Typically, I include text along the lines of “Let’s all wish a happy birthday.” But for Jones, I departed from tradition. Great character actor. Based on his conviction, doesn’t sound like a great person but presumably he has paid his debt and all that.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I just watched Ravenous, I thought it was a very interesting film and among the better entries on Jones’ resume. I didn’t notice any unevenness of tone that gave the two directors away.


  23. Episode 130 – Stay Tuned

    In this week’s episode, the gang kicks off November’s “Stay Tuned” month with 1992’s witty? send up of television culture, the aptly titled, Stay Tuned! How does John Ritter not immediately know that Jeffrey Jones is working for the Devil? Who thought these show parodies were funny? And why does the Lord of Darkness need a television network? Plus: Don Pardo and Robert Stack impressions abound!

    Stay Tuned stars John Ritter, Pam Dawber, Jeffrey Jones and Eugene Levy; directed by Peter Hyams.

    Make someone’s day, turn them on to WHM today! –


  24. One Hit Wonderland: Rock Me Amadeus by Falco


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