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Biography
A one-time boxer and a veteran of the Vietnam War, actor Paul Le Mat made a career out of playing gruff, rugged male characters. After attending San Diego City College, Cypress Junior College, Chapman College, and L.A. Valley College following graduation from Newport Harbor High School, the New Jersey native became a war hero after winning a National Defense Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal, and a George Washington Honor Medal for his heroic wartime actions. Though he considered a career in the ring after winning the L.A. Diamond Belt and Southern Pacific Boxing Championship in the early '70s, Le Mat decided on a less physically-intensive career path, and studied acting at the Mitchell Ryan Actors' Studio and San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. His role as a tire-squealing drag racer in George Lucas' American Graffiti earned the actor a Most Promising Newcomer award at the 1974 Golden Globe Awards, but Le Mat's star waned after a memorable role as a CB coordinator in Jonathan Demme's Handle With Care (1977). He reprised his American Graffiti role in the film's 1979 sequel, but after appearing in Demme's underappreciated Melvin and Howard and a menacing, Golden Globe-winning performance in the harrowing domestic drama The Burning Bed, good parts became scarce. By the 1990s, Le Mat's roles had gone from leading to supporting, and aside from American History X (1998), most of his roles were in bottom-of-the-barrel, B-grade schlock. Genre fans still relished in his performances in such fare as Grave Secrets and Puppet Master (both 1989), but the most exposure Le Mat received in the '90s was his role as the mayor in the Western series Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years. In 2001, Le Mat received his most substantial dramatic role in years as the best friend to a troubled Vietnam veteran in Arliss Howard's Big Bad Love.

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