The name may not be familiar to most, but for any student of the teen films of the 1980s, William "Billy" Zabka is an undeniable legend. Perhaps even a god. And now he is a Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer.
The New York-born Mr. Zabka's work in three '80s classics--"The Karate Kid," "Just One of the Guys," and "Back to School" (he was also in "National Lampoon's European Vacation," but not used to his best abilities)--earned him the distinction of being the quintessential jerk of modern cinema, the very embodiment of the fear and disgust felt by the unsung and unpopular at thousands of schools across America. Of the three, it is probably his turn as Johnny Lawrence in "The Karate Kid" that is most adored, and it's worth noting that that was his first film. A star right out of the box, surely something considered when the Tinsel and Rot Hall of Fame Board of Governors met to debate Mr. Zabka's induction into the Hall. And while we generally don't like to reward bullies here at Tinsel and Rot, we recognize that (a) Mr. Zabka was only playing a bully and (b) we would've been pretty pissed if the new kid stole Elisabeth Shue away, too.
Look how Zabka doesn't even say anything in that scene and he's still giving you that jerkoff vibe. Genius. And not only was it his first film, but dig this nugget from an online interview:
"For Johnny, I really was surprised that I got the part, because I didn't know karate. I never rode a motorcycle. The last thing I did before The Karate Kid was a milk commercial. I was just this nice young American kid."
As impressive as he was in pondering the inner debate to sweep or not to sweep and in revisiting the bully ouevre in "Just One of the Guys," Zabka truly hit his stride with his star turn as primo douchebag Chas in the stone-cold classic "Back to School." If "The Karate Kid" established Zabka as a force to be reckoned with, "Back to School" showed that force at peak perfomance--and, incidentally, he had to play off what may be one of the worst comedic acting performances of all time, turned in by Keith Gordon. Screw you, Melon, indeed.
Like any good champion, Zabka went out on top (or perhaps he couldn't get any more acting jobs...now is not the time for quibbling over minor details). He went on to do some TV, a few films, and some other things outside of acting, including writing and producing a short film (Most) that was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004.
And now, he is the latest inductee into the Tinsel and Rot Hall of Fame, Today, William Zabka, you are the best around.
Here's a YouTube homage, followed by the Web smash music video "Sweep the Leg" by No More Kings (directed by and starring Mr. Zabka).