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Obituaries

Gilbert Parra, 65; Detective Was Inspiration for Film Characters

October 27, 2003|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Gilbert Parra, the bigger-than-life Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department homicide detective who inspired characters in motion pictures from "Freebie and the Bean" to "Mulholland Falls," has died. He was 65.

Parra died Oct. 19 in Los Angeles of liver cancer, said his friend, Floyd Mutrux, a Hollywood producer, director and writer credited with producing the 1974 "Freebie" and creating the story for the 1996 "Mulholland Falls."

"Gil was part of the tapestry of at least 10 different movies," Mutrux said Sunday. "He worked 23 hours a day. He loved being a cop."

Mutrux said he first met Parra when the detective was on duty outside Hollywood's Whiskey a Go Go in 1970, soon befriended him, and infused him into the future San Francisco cop comedy "Freebie and the Bean." While most insiders viewed Parra as the inspiration for the character Freebie, played by actor James Caan, Mutrux said Parra actually was the prototype for both Freebie and for Bean, played by Alan Arkin.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday October 28, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Parra obituary -- The obituary of retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Gilbert Parra in Monday's California section incorrectly stated that the film "Blood In, Blood Out," also called "Bound by Honor," was about Chicago gang life. The film was about Chicano gang life.

"The legendary characters were based on the 'good cop, bad cop' personality Sgt. Parra had perfected," Mutrux said.

"There was Good Gil and Bad Gil. Gil had a huge heart and at the same time he could be an excellent cop."

After growing up poor in San Pedro, the burly 6-foot, 2-inch Parra, who weighed 240 pounds, worked his way through USC, earning a master's degree. During his long Sheriff's Department career, he was assigned to the Watts riots of 1965, the Los Angeles riots of 1992, the Symbionese Liberation Army shootout in South Los Angeles after the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the Hillside Strangler case, and several Hollywood homicide and vice cases.

Parra also developed a successful second career as technical advisor on motion pictures and television movies and miniseries involving police work.

He occasionally was cast in bit parts such as a swat team leader or other cop role.

In the 1994 "There Goes My Baby," written and directed by Mutrux and starring Dermot Mulroney and Noah Wyle -- more a coming-of-age film than a cop picture -- Parra was cast as a police chief.

Parra also worked as technical advisor for award-winning writer, director and producer Michael Mann on such projects as his 1989 television miniseries "Drug Wars," the 1989 television movie "L.A. Takedown" and related 1995 motion picture "Heat," starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.

Among Parra's other advisory credits on crime-related motion pictures were the 1986 "8 Million Ways to Die" starring Jeff Bridges, and "Mulholland Falls," which starred Nick Nolte. Mutrux said Parra also inspired characters in his screenplays for the 1992 "American Me," about the Mexican Mafia, and the 1993 "Blood In, Blood Out," also called "Bound by Honor," about Chicago gang life.

Parra is survived by a son, Eric, a lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, and a daughter, Stacy, who lives in New Zealand.

A memorial service is scheduled at noon Tuesday at SeaCoast Grace Church, 5100 Cerritos Ave., Cypress.

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