Before Skyscraper There Was The Towering Inferno: A Look Back at the Movie's A-List Cast
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson's latest blockbuster Skyscraper shares a lot in common with the 1974 classic thriler The Towering Inferno, which boasts one of the starriest casts of all time.
Skyscraper stars Johnson as a man who risks it all to save his family from criminals atop the world's tallest building that's on fire. Steve McQueen headed The Towering Inferno as a chief of the San Francisco Fire Department tasked with saving the trapped residents of the city’s tallest (and burning) building.
Nominated for eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, five of which the cast and crew took home, The Towering Inferno boasted an A-list cast, including Paul Newman as the architect alongside on-screen fiancée Faye Dunaway, William Holden as the complex builder, the legendary Fred Astaire in a rare non-musical performance, O.J. Simpson, Richard Chamberlain, and more.
Steve McQueen as “Chief O’Hallorhan”
The 1960s counter-culture bad boy, Hollywood anti-hero, daredevil pilot and (in his spare time) racecar enthusiast Steve McQueen became one of the top box-office successes of his era.
Following his performance in The Towering Inferno (1974) the Academy Award nominee earned a handsome $14 million, making him the highest paid movie star in the industry at the time. McQueen passed away in 1980, aged 50, from a cancer caused by Asbestos exposure.
Alongside his critically acclaimed performance in The Sand Pebbles (1966), some of McQueen’s most notable films include The Cincinnati Kid (1965), The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and Papillon (1973).
Paul Newman as “Doug Roberts”
A real Hollywood titan, Paul Newman’s charming looks, humble persona and talent led the blue-eyed heartthrob to star in 65 films over a period of 50 years, becoming one of the most celebrated actors of the 20th century.
After inheriting the role of Rocky Graziano in Someone Up There Likes Me (1956) from James Dean, who had been killed in a car crash before the screenplay’s completion, Newman’s performance turned heads, landing him his first Oscar nomination for his role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) opposite Elizabeth Taylor.
Over a decade after starring in The Towering Inferno (1974) he won the award for Best Actor in 1986’s The Color of Money. Newman died in 2008 of lung cancer at the age of 86.
Faye Dunaway as “Susan Franklin”
The 1960s Broadway starlet and Hollywood icon, Faye Dunaway, 77, made a breakthrough debut with her 1967 portrayal of Bonnie Parker in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, receiving her first Academy Award nomination.
The same year she starred in The Towering Inferno (1974), the three-time Golden-Globe winner earned her second Oscar nomination for the neo-noir mystery Chinatown, going on to win the award for Best Actress in the 1976 satire Network. The actress maintains her presence on the small screen, last appearing in 2017’s The American Connection.
Fred Astaire as “Harlee Claiborne”
One of the most talented and influential dancers in the history of musicals, Fred Astaire was named by the American Film Institute as the fifth greatest male star of classic Hollywood cinema, and received his only Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Towering Inferno (1974).
Born in 1899, Astaire’s career spanned seven decades with over 30 musical films, 10 Broadway and London musicals and multiple television specials. He is best known for his performance in films like Funny Face (1957) opposite Audrey Hepburn, The Band Wagon, (1953) and Three Little Words (1950). Astaire died in 1987 at the age of 88.
O.J. Simpson as “Harry Jernigan”
Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson, 71, nicknamed “The Juice,” was a National Football League running back with the Buffalo Bills for 11 seasons from 1969 to 1977, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
In 1994, Simpson was famously arrested and charged with the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. After an internationally publicized trial spanning 134 days, a jury ultimately acquitted him.
Simpson dabbled in acting and producing, starring in The Naked Gun franchise (1988-1994) and other smaller-screen films before playing the chief security officer in The Towering Inferno (1974).
Robert Wagner as “Dan Bigelow”
Before playing the Public Relations Officer in the 1974 action-disaster film, Robert Wagner had established himself as the smooth criminal star of the television series It Takes A Thief (1968). His transition to film saw him take on roles in classics like the Austin Powers trilogy (1997-2002), playing the diabolical Number Two, and as George Litton in the Pink Panther (1963) franchise.
In 1981, Wagner’s wife, the Academy Award nominated Natalie Wood, drowned on a boating trip in a tragedy ruled an accident. However, in February 2018 the case was reopened with new evidence listing Wagner as a person of interest in her death.
William Holden as “Jim Duncan”
One of the top box-office success draws of the 50s and 60s, William Holden starred in some of the industry’s highest grossing, critically acclaimed films, including the The Towering Inferno (1974), Sunset Boulevard (1950), The Wild Bunch (1969) and Network (1976) alongside co-star Dunaway.
After winning an Oscar for his role in Stalag 17 (1953) and an Emmy for his performance in The Blue Knight (1973), the actor was named one of the “Top Ten Stars of the Year” six times between 1954 to 1961, appearing 20 rows down from Astaire in AFI’s greatest male stars of classic Hollywood Cinema, in 25th place.
Richard Chamberlain as “Roger Simmons”
Once a teen idol for his title role as the original “McDreamy” in the hit medical drama show, Dr. Kildare (1966), Richard Chamberlain, 84, went on to appear in several mini series before landing major feature film roles. After playing the villainous engineer in The Towering Inferno (1974) Chamberlain starred as the first Jason Bourne in 1988’s Bourne Identity, and the lawyer in the drama mystery, The Last Wave (1977).
Since then, Chamberlain’s made numerous appearances in modern TV shows like Desperate Housewives (2004-2012) and Twin Peaks (2017), and will appear in the upcoming 2018 horror film Nightmare Cinema.
Jennifer Jones as “Lisolette Mueller”
The five-time Academy Award nominee Jennifer Jones (born Phylis Lee Isley) quickly became a Hollywood starlet in her early twenties with a breakout performance as Bernadette Soubirous in The Song of Bernadette (1943), earning her the Oscar for Best Actress.
Jones married film producer David O. Selznick who cast her in a variety of films, like the controversial Duel in the Sun (1946) in which she played a bi-racial woman, and other critically acclaimed classics like Love Letters (1945), Since You Went Away (1945), and Love Is A Many Splendored Thing (1955).
Jones passed away in 2009 at the age of 90 after having starred in over 20 films throughout a 30-year career.