Why Bruce Campbell Retired His Most Famous Character

Forget all the Daniel Day-Lewises and Meryl Streeps of the world — no conversation about actors committing hard to their roles is complete without Bruce Campbell. "The Chin" spent close to 40 years playing Ash Williams in the "Evil Dead" franchise, going back to the very first movie in 1981. In the years that came after, he reprised the role in a pair of film sequels, voiced the groovy Deadite slayer in a trio of video games, starred in three seasons of the TV show "Ash vs Evil Dead," and even popped in for a post-credits cameo in 2013's "Evil Dead" movie reboot. 

Like all good things, however, Campbell can't wield his boomstick forever, and has made it clear he's done bringing the character to life. Campbell didn't wait to break to break the news, either, taking to social media to state he had "retired as Ash" shortly before the "Ash vs Evil Dead" series finale aired in 2018. He's elaborated on his reasons for doing so since then, saying in 2021, "Whatever the cliched phrase is, I left it all on the table. I've got nothing left to give." It's not that he's tired of dealing out one-liners or swinging his chainsaw arm around, either. As the actor, who turns 64 this year, has explained, he "physically just can't do him anymore."

Campbell has suffered for his art

When it comes to suffering for their art, few actors can match Campbell and his work on the "Evil Dead" series. It all began with Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead," a no-budget horror movie that Raimi, Campbell, and their longtime producer Rob Tapert had to bend over backwards in order to finance. Things didn't get any easier after that, either, with filming taking place in a rundown cabin miles from civilization in the Tennessee woods. Describing the experience, Campbell said:

"From the beginning to the end — they were all low points. You were in a cabin that had not been occupied in decades, and had no power (or) running water; no sewage; no nothing. It was kind of like camping out for 12 weeks, but meanwhile you're trying to do a movie. There wasn't much acting required: You were cold, you were miserable, you were covered in blood. Some actors have to run around in circles, do push-ups, slap yourself in the face to get ready. We were miserable all day long; we were good to go."

Thanks to the film's success, Raimi, Campbell, and Tapert were able to secure proper funding and resources when they reunited for the sequel, "Evil Dead II," in 1987. But even more so than in the first movie, Raimi delighted in tormenting Campbell by subjecting Ash to all sorts of Deadite-related mishaps. Over the course of the film, the character spins violently through time and space, is attacked by his own reflection, cheerfully saws his possessed hand off, and even gets blasted with an almost-never-ending stream of blood. Campbell took it all like the champ he is, too, no matter how tiring or gooey the stunt was.

That remained the case in, by far, the most comedic of the "Evil Dead" films — 1992's "Army of Darkness." Raimi's movie basically turns Ash into a Looney Tunes character, with Deadites constantly punching him, and an entire scene devoted to skeletons poking and slapping his face in the style of The Three Stooges. The barometer would later shift back closer to the horror end of the horror-comedy spectrum in "Ash vs Evil Dead," a series set years after "Army of Darkness." It also features some of the grossest human-vs-Deadite battles in the entire franchise, including a notorious moment where Ash tangles with the possessed intestines of a corpse housing the Necronomicon.

Evil Dead (and the Necronomicon) will live on

Campbell's enduring appeal as Ash lies with his ability to retain his swagger and shake off whatever nastiness the Necronomicon throws his way, no matter how painful or disgusting. At the same time, this makes the role incredibly physically demanding to play, no matter the age of the actor. Campbell admitted this really caught up to him during filming on "Ash vs Evil Dead," referring to his three seasons on the show as "the longest seasons of my life." Yet, for all the wear and tear they took on his body, he never let it show in his performance, always being quick to recover, flash a cocky grin, and dive back into the fray of things.

For related reasons, a lot of people had a hard time picturing the "Evil Dead" films carrying on without Campbell during the 20-year break between "Army of Darkness" and Fede Álvarez's "Evil Dead" reboot in 2013. The latter was not as beloved as Raimi's original movie, but still managed to convince a lot of people the horror property could thrive without its groovy hero. This will once again be put to the test with Lee Cronin's "Evil Dead Rise," the latest film set in the "Evil Dead" universe.

Campbell, for his part, isn't worried, saying "there are more ['Evil Dead'] stories" to tell that don't involve Ash. After four decades of duking it out with the gnarliest demonic creatures around, he's certainly earned a rest.