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Chris Ellis’ “The Quick and the Dead” at AMUM

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Were I to write a Chris Ellis-style obituary for the one-and-only Mr. Chris Ellis (the Memphis ex-pat actor who's alive and on his way to the Art Museum at the University of Memphis for an exhibit of his acerbic celebrity obituaries/caricatures), it would go something like this ...

I don't know much about that motion picture industry mess, but I know enough to understand that Chris Ellis of Frayser, Tennessee, was either an uncommonly lucky actor or a brilliant extortionist who built a career — if you can call it that — around playing a slightly more Southern-fried version of himself. Ellis named his big-and-small-screen persona Sheriff Cracker Von Peckerwood, and he played the part across a number of not-entirely-terrible films like My Cousin Vinnie, Transformers, and Apollo 13. Unlike actual movie stars, he also took parts in TV shows such as Burn Notice and a 2008 Knight Rider reboot that Slate TV writer Troy Patterson described as being for, "boys who are too old for Hot Wheels and too young for learner's permits with just enough eccentricity to avoid utterly craven stupidity." Ellis also holds the distinction of playing Father Reilly, the only principle character nobody remembers from 2012's Dark Knight Rises, which is exactly what he deserves for signing onto a Batman movie during the year of The Avengers.

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Thankfully for his poor embarrassed family, Ellis, who once performed a great service to humanity cracking beers behind the bar at the P&H Cafe, is so much more than his acting resume. In addition to being about as good a storyteller as you'll ever meet, he is a sharp-eyed cartoonist with a gift for the finely tuned comic insult. When he's on — and he's always on — Ellis is to the obituary what Devil's Dictionary author Ambrose Bierce was to definition. Don't miss.

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