You may not have known his name. But chances are, you knew that face over there. Especially if you were any halfway decent horror fan who hasn't been living in a cave for the past 30 years. Clayton Hill was better known to all of us as "Sweater Zombie" (or occasionally "Escalator Zombie") from the original Dawn of the Dead--and it bums me out tonight to report that he is no longer with us.
Hill was one of the "star zombies" in George Romero's triumphant classic, appearing alongside his wife Sharon Ceccatti, better known as "Nurse Zombie" (YES, they were married). He died Saturday night of complications from pneumonia, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He was 78.
Hill got his first taste of the horror business in Dawn of the Dead. Ol' George just saw something in that face that would make him perfect to portray one of his most prominently featured ghouls. He would appear in a handful of films after that, including Hellraiser III (1992). He had just finished working on two films made in the Pittsburgh area, End Game and River of Darkness, co-starring with fellow Pittsburgher and former Olympic gold medalist/WWE Superstar Kurt Angle, as well as fellow iconic former zombie Bill Hinzeman (the graveyard ghoul from Night of the Living Dead).
Prior to his work in movies, Hill had spent more than 20 years in the Air Force. But after leaving that world to escape the stress, he took some acting classes at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Doing some operatta work in Pittsburgh (Hill was a gifted singer since childhood), he and his wife eventually crossed paths with another local luminary, George Romero, who was more than happy to give them their first movie roles as "star zombies" in his long-awaited "Living Dead" sequel in 1978. In addition to appearing on-screen as that pathetic, wide-eyed revenant trying so hard to get up that escalator, Hill also served on-set as the weapons handler for the film, thanks to his military background.
The experience led Hill and his wife to start their own casting company, and later to continue to work in the business as location scouts. In recent years, they were fixtures on the horror convention circuit.
You may not have known his name, but you do now. Rest in Peace, Mr. Hill, one of horror's most memorable zombies.
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