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He was the smarmy Dean Wormer in the sophomoric cult movie Animal House.

He was a bad guy who got tossed out a window to his death by the even badder Lee Marvin in Point Blank.

But Canadians may best remember actor John Vernon as a crusading coroner in the groundbreaking 1960s CBC crime series Wojeck.

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Mr. Vernon, 72, died peacefully at his Los Angeles home on Tuesday, his family said.

With his pockmarked face and heavy-lidded eyes, Mr. Vernon made an ideal villain in dozens of the 85 motion pictures he made over a four-decade career. But he started out as the hero in Wojeck in which his character was based on real-life coroner and politician Dr. Morton Shulman and formed the template for future crime series formats, from Quincy to Da Vinci's Inquest to CSI.

He was seen most recently on the "double secret probation" DVD edition of Animal House, in a feature that offered a tongue-in-cheek look at the characters of the 1978 film as they would be today. Mr. Vernon's Dean Wormer was a crotchety, snowy-haired senior citizen in a wheelchair.

His other notable film roles included The Outlaw Josey Wales, Dirty Harry, Airplane II, Topaz, Brannigan, Charley Varrick, Nobody Waved Goodbye and Tell Them Willie Boy Was Here. He also starred in a 1990 CBC movie that reprised his Wojeck character.

Born in Zehner, Sask., and stage trained, the 6-foot-2 Mr. Vernon, whose birth name was Adolphus Raymondus Vernon Agopsowicz, attended London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and in London joined several repertory companies. His Broadway debut came in Royal Hunt of the Sun. From there, he moved to Hollywood for a prolific career playing mostly heartless villains.

He leaves his former wife, Nancy; his children, Chris, Kate, Nan and Jim West and Grant West, and a granddaughter.

There will be a private service in Los Angeles and a gathering of friends to remember him in Toronto at a later date, the family said.

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