LOS ANGELES — Michael Parks, the star of numerous TV shows and movies including outings with directors Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith, died at his Los Angeles home on May 9 at the age of 77. Parks was a former North County resident and owned a home just outside of Paso Robles for many years.
Atascadero native Meta Bales first met Parks while working at the Black Oak restaurant in Paso Robles.
“Michael would come through this area with his son Jimmy and that was the place to stop, it was a very, very nice restaurant,” Bales said. She worked as the bar manager at the restaurant and said that Parks had an eye on her right from the get go.
“I didn’t know who he was, but he’d seen me and he’d made a comment,” she said. “And I commented back. I have a sense of wit, you know and I can spring back with something pretty quick. I’m not bragging, but I’m witty, so he smiled and I went on my way.”
Bales soon saw Parks again though as he made his return trip to San Francisco where he lived at the time. His visits to the Black Oak became more and more frequent and he and Bales got to know one another very well.
“We became very, very close friends and then we started dating,” she said. “And then, because of me, he got a place off of Highway 46 West and we became very, very, very close. He moved here because of me, because he wanted to be closer and have a place to be when he came here and stay here and not just drive through. It was wonderful.”
Bales eventually left the Black Oak and opened her own bar in Santa Margarita, the Railhead, where Parks would often join the bands on stage to sing a few numbers.
“He had a beautiful voice,” she said. “But he spoke so softly. He never raised his voice, he never got angry. He was always so soft spoken. He always showed me respect. When we went places people would always want his attention, but he always showed me his attention. It wasn’t about everybody surrounding him. He always showed me that respect, which was very admirable.”
Former Atascadero resident Tom Wand, who now lives in Maryland, regularly met with Parks to have drinks at the Overland Stage restaurant. Wand agreed that Parks was a soft spoken man.
“I thought he was very much like most of the characters he played,” Wand said. “He spoke very softly, so you often had to lean in to listen to him. But at the same time he was very self-confident and had a bit of an ego, relating stories of the advantages of celebrity status. I remember one time we got in his car and he had his own tape playing, ‘Long Lonesome Highway’ on his car stereo.”
“Long Lonesome Highway,” written and performed by Parks, was the theme song to his TV show “Then Came Bronson.”
Although she said that Parks was a “brilliant man and a wonderful father,” Bales eventually decided to part ways with Parks, partly due to the fact that he wanted to move to England and partly due to his drinking.
“I didn’t love Michael like he loved me,” she said. “I was young and I wasn’t ready to settle down, but I did care about him a lot. I was born and raised here and I wasn’t ready to stop, I just wanted to see a little more so I decided to move to Lake Tahoe because I knew there was life beyond Atascadero and Paso Robles. Also, Michael drank and I didn’t like that, I didn’t like the drinking. And that had a lot to do with me choosing not to go his direction. I didn’t want to be like that so I chose the other direction and I’m glad, I’m really, really glad.”
Bales said that before she left for Lake Tahoe, Parks showed up on her doorstep with a wrought iron bird cage that she’d always wanted.
“I feel so bad because I didn’t answer the door and he left it on my doorstep,” she said. “I kind of didn’t want to face seeing him the last time, because I was leaving and I just didn’t want to go through with it.”
It would be the last time that Bales saw Parks in person. She said that Parks sought her out when she was living in Tahoe and the two spoke on the phone, but she never heard from him again after that.
“He said he was going to come see me, but he didn’t make it” she said. “I didn’t see him.”
Bales said she tried to reach out to Parks about 10 years ago, but didn’t have any luck. When she heard about his death last week, Bales said she was devastated.
“I was really, really, sad because I wasn’t able to be in touch with him,” she said. “My heart is broke. I just lost a very dear friend on the fifth of May and now Michael too. My heart is just broke, like it’s just broke in half. I’m just devastated. It’s just horrible.”
Parks, a native of Riverside County, worked at various jobs including digging ditches, driving trucks and fighting forest fires before launching his acting career in 1961 with a role on “The Real McCoys.” He went on to play parts on dozens of TV and movies throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, including appearances on “Perry Mason,” “Twin Peaks,” the “Dynasty” spinoff “The Colbys,” and most notably his starring role on the series “Then Came Bronson.” Parks had a revival later in his career, with several prominent roles in the films of Quentin Tarantino including “Kill Bill” and “Death Proof” and starring roles in the Kevin Smith films “Red State” and “Tusk.”
Parks’ final film role will be in the upcoming Christian Bale movie “Hostiles,” a period drama about an army captain who escorts a dying Cheyenne war chief and his family back to his tribal lands in the year 1892.