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SYFY WIRE Day of the Dead

Joseph Pilato, Day of the Dead’s Captain Rhodes, dies at 70

By Benjamin Bullard
Joseph Pilato in Day of the Dead

Joseph Pilato, who’ll forever be linked with the brittle and unhinged Army captain he portrayed in George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, has reportedly passed away at the age of 70.

Horror fans likely remember Pilato as the main human antagonist in the 1985 third installment in Romero’s landmark Night of the Living Dead zombie series. Pilato put in a selflessly harrowing performance as Captain Henry Rhodes, a mean-spirited military boss whose antipathy for zombies was matched only by his hatred of his fellow humans.

In one of the most memorable character deaths not only in Day of the Dead, but in all of the genre, Rhodes proved his own cowardly hypocrisy by abandoning his men and escaping the zombies on his own, only to be overcome and ripped to pieces by an undead mob.

Horror director Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) paid his respects to Pilato on Twitter, describing Captain Rhodes as “a horrible, broken — and scared — villain for the ages” and “the ultimate Romero monster.”

Spanning more than three decades, Pilato’s career hewed closely to horror, sci-fi, and suspense. Beginning with a small role in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) as a police officer, he also appeared as an unwitting snuff film victim in the long-unreleased 1978 cult horror movie Effects.

In the 1990s, Pilato showed up as a crane operator in Robert Kurtzman’s 1997 horror fantasy Wishmaster, which assembled a who’s who of horror cast for many of its supporting parts. Pilato also filmed an unused 1994 Pulp Fiction scene as a Dean Martin lookalike, according to Entertainment Weekly, and made his final film appearance as Harry Cooper in Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn, a 2015 computer-animated retelling of Romero’s original film.