On Wednesday, screenwriter Zak Olkewicz (Lights Out), son of television character actor Walter Olkewicz (Twin Peaks, Grace Under Fire), reported that his father had passed away this week as a result of ongoing medical issues. “[Olkewicz] had struggled with health issues during the past 20 years and had a series of knee surgeries that caused infections,” The Hollywood Reporter elaborated “led to him being bedridden and forced him to take a break from acting.”
Walter Olkewicz, Actor on ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘Grace Under Fire,’ Dies at 72 https://t.co/uo3WrxL1wM
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) April 7, 2021
The film and television actor from New Jersey began his entertainment career as a comedy writer working on The New Dating Game, according to The A.V. Club. Olkewicz made his on-screen debut in 1979’s Futureworld, subsequently landing roles in films such as The Client and 1941. However, television is where Olkewicz shone, as The A.V. Club described “Olkewicz worked steadily throughout the 1980s and ’90s, appearing on everything from Family Ties to The A-Team to Dolly Parton’s variety series Dolly, where he had a regular role.”
You couldn’t turn on a TV in the 80s or 90s without seeing Walter Olkewicz in a episode of something. He was one of those “I don’t know his name but I’d recognize his face anywhere” kind of character actors. #RIP https://t.co/8Q9IIAvTh3
— Eric Haywood (@EricHaywood) April 7, 2021
Television writer Eric Haywood (Empire, Manifest) tweeted about Olkewicz’s ubiquity “you couldn’t turn on a TV in the 80s or 90s without seeing Walter Olkewicz in a episode of something.” In some occasions, such as Grace Under Fire, these roles were recurring and in others Olkewicz left an indelible mark on a series in simply one stand-out episode, such as Seinfeld’s “The Cadillac”.
Olkewicz’s most well-known role was that of menacing Canadian bartender Jacques Renault on David Lynch (Eraserhead, Mullholland Drive) and Mark Frost’s (Hill Street Blues) Twin Peaks. Olkewicz appeared as Renault in both the original series and its prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and later resurfaced as a new Renault brother, Jean-Michel, in 2017’s The Return.
“It was his first role in almost 15 years, and he did it all from behind a bar to cover the fact that he couldn’t stand,” Olkewicz told The Hollywood Reporter about his father’s final television role in The Return. Though the condition of his knees left Olkewicz unable to do the work he loved, he remained passionate about the arts, opening his own theater company The Jewel Box, where he served as artist director.
“He was a good man who pushed his love for creativity and the arts into everything he did,” Olkewicz’s son told Deadline “he handed that passion down to me, and I look forward to passing it on to the grandchildren he loved so much.”
As Thursday marked the thirty-first anniversary on Twin Peak, Olkewicz’s impact on the series will not be forgotten. During his daily weather report on Thursday, Lynch thanked Olkewicz for his contributions to Twin Peaks as Jacques Renault and Jean-Michel Renault.