Von Bargen, who also stood out as Commandant Edwin Spangler on the ABC sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, died Sunday after a long illness, his friend, actor Bob Colonna, said. Cincinnati TV station WLWT also reported the news. Other details of his death were not known.
In February 2012, von Bargen was seriously injured when he shot himself in the temple in an apparent suicide attempt, distraught because he had been battling diabetes and was set to have two toes removed.
The versatile von Bargen rose from the dead as the satanic Nix in the Clive Barker horror film Lord of Illusions (1995); played a futuristic sheriff in The Postman (1997), directed by and starring Kevin Costner; and portrayed a Southern lawman who pursued George Clooney’s character in the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000).
An expert at playing authority figures, von Bargen was a member of the Air Force on NBC’s The West Wing and in the 1996 film Broken Arrow, a SWAT communicator in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), a cop in Basic Instinct (1992) and Super Troopers (2001), a secret service agent in I.Q. (1994), a warden in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad (1997) and a federal agent in The Majestic (2001).
His film résumé includes the notable films Company Business (1991), Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog (1991), Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia (1993), RoboCop 3 (1993), Crimson Tide (1995), Looking for Richard (1996) and Snow Falling on Cedars (1999). He also guest-starred on such TV shows as Spenser: For Hire, All My Children, NYPD Blue, The X-Files and The Practice.
A native of Cincinnati who graduated from Purdue University, von Bargen joined the Trinity Square Repertory Company in Providence, R.I., after college. He appeared in a David Mamet production of Uncle Vanya opposite Christopher Walken, then attracted Hollywood’s eye in 1989 when he played Major Manley Battle in the Larry Gelbart satire Mastergate on Broadway.
On Seinfeld, his Mr. Kruger was the incompetent owner of Kruger Industrial Smoothing (a company that tried and failed to remove the green tint from the Statue of Liberty) and the boss of George (Jason Alexander) — by then finished with the Yankees — in Season 9 of the NBC hit.
And on Malcolm in the Middle, von Bargen played the hard-nosed, eyepatch-wearing Spangler, the head of cadets at Marlin Academy. He clashed often with the troublemaking Francis (Christopher Masterson), the oldest of Malcolm’s (Frankie Muniz) brothers.
In 2013, von Bargen starred in The Treatment at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York.
“I feel a huge wave of sorrow and relief at the passing of this remarkable man,” Colonna said. “I treasure the years when I worked with him at Trinity Rep and in a couple of TV films. I admire his excellent body of work in the movies. And I mourn for the darkness and pain that were his final years. God bless him. He was a hell of a guy.”