He's starred and performed in more than 200 TV shows and films, including beloved classics like WarGames, Northern Exposure and No Country for Old Men. He's acted in roles for best-selling video game franchises like the Tex Murphy adventures, the war strategy series Command & Conquer and the latest edition of EA Sports' Madden football games. He's also performed onstage in everything from the works of William Shakespeare to the comedies of Neil Simon, from regional theaters to Off-Broadway.
Corbin also doesn't have any plans to retire from the business now that he's 77 and lives on a large plot of land in Handley. He has roles in at least seven upcoming movies and a recurring supporting role as the hearing-impaired town vet Dale Rivers on Netflix's uncensored multi-camera sitcom The Ranch starring Sam Elliott and Ashton Kutcher.
"It's what I do," Corbin says. "I like it. I enjoy work. I told my kids when they were growing up, 'Don't put all your hopes and dreams in money or things. The worst thing in the world, the most aggravating thing in the world is money. It's the least important thing you can possibly be worried about unless you have too much or not enough. If you don't have enough, then you can't afford to pay rent, and if you've got too much, you've got to worry about someone coming and stealing it from you. Don't worry about it. Just get enough to get by.'"
He moved to New York in the mid-'60s and continued to perform in productions all around the country for more than 10 years. Then he moved to Hollywood to find more work in TV shows and films and escape the fallout of the infamous New York blackout of 1977. During the summer of 1980, Corbin had "a pretty good spring forward" with roles in two major studio movies including Urban Cowboy with John Travolta, Any Which Way You Can with Clint Eastwood and TV's most popular prime-time show Dallas as Sheriff Fenton Washburn, the first of many memorable hard-edged, Southern sheriff roles in his acting career that became a bit of a curse for a while, he says.
"There was a period of time around the early '80s that if any part they offered me had the first name 'sheriff,' I turned it down," Corbin says. "Then I decided I was doing all kinds of other parts, and somebody called and offered me a part in the Travis McGee mystery television show starring Sam Elliott and offered me the part of the sheriff. I said, 'OK, I'll do it but I'm not gonna do it in uniform. I'll do it in a business suit.' So that broke my sheriff curse."
Corbin scored another one of his most memorable roles when director John Badham cast him as the no-nonsense Gen. Beringer in the box-office smash WarGames. The movie stars Matthew Broderick as a teenage computer hacker who stumbles upon a military computer that launches a global nuclear standoff simulation.
"That kind of pushed me into another level," Corbin says.
Badham picked Corbin for the role after he auditioned for Badham's previous thriller Blue Thunder to play a sadistic FBI agent — a role Corbin says he wasn't too keen to play because "all I did in the movie was break somebody's finger." The role of Gen. Beringer had a lot more meat on its bones, as Corbin portrayed the character as a military man who knew the complicated inner workings on global conflicts while retaining his country-guy charms.
During principal photography for WarGames, Corbin's first wife gave birth to his youngest son, Chris. Corbin has three sons: Bo, Jim and Chris, a daughter Shannon Ross, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren with two more on the way. The birth of Corbin's son also created a lasting friendship with his co-star Dabney Coleman.
"Badham made an announcement to the cast and said, 'Barry Corbin's wife had a baby this morning so let's congratulate him,' and Dabney Coleman said, 'Yeah and the funny thing is he thinks it's his,"' Corbin says with a laugh. "That was my introduction to Dabney Coleman, the irascible, old son-of-a-bitch. We became good friends."
Corbin continued to pursue acting roles on TV series and movies, as well as studio films, even though the industry stigma painted actors who made such a jump as suffering a slump in their careers. Then in the early 1990s, he read for an unusual role on a prime-time comedy pilot called Northern Exposure about a New York doctor fresh from medical school who has to do his residency in a remote Alaskan town called Cicely. Corbin auditioned for the role of retired Marine and Mercury astronaut Maurice J. Minnifield in a military manner.
"I knew they were seeing everybody in town for the character I played, and I had to figure out a way to leave an impression that nobody else had done," he says. "So I walked into the room with these two producers and I knew I was supposed to be military. So I walked in and I never sat down. I just walked into the room like this."
Corbin gets off his sofa, walks away from it and walks back toward it in a rigid stance and a tough stride with his cowboy hat-sporting head held high and proud.
"'Gentlemen, shall we begin?'" Corbin says re-enacting his audition to the show's producers and director. "They said, 'All right.' The casting director was reading the lines to me, but I never took my eyes off of them and I'm walking back and forth like this, and then I get to a certain point in the script, I fell over and started doing push-ups and I just kept saying the line while doing push-ups. I got up and said, '
Corbin played Cicely, Alaska's most generous benefactor for five seasons to critical acclaim and two Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actor, while working on other film projects in between seasons without signing a single contract.
"I said no, I don't need to sign a contract," Corbin says. "What I've told you I'm gonna do, I'm gonna do. What you told me you're gonna do, you're gonna do if it's convenient for you. That's the same way a contract works. They're all one-sided anyway."
The show was an anomaly for network television in the '90s. Northern Exposure was a drama at its core, but it features a distinct comedy charm and a quirky sensibility with its unique collection of small-town characters. It struggled out of the starting gate to earn an audience. CBS actually canceled the summer replacement series after its first season but decided to give it another chance after everyone in the cast thought the show was finished. It soon became a critical and ratings success.
"It was very unusual for the time, and they've tried to re-create it," Corbin says. "They tried to do a doctor in Jamaica and this and that, but nothing ever worked. We had the right mix of people, the right writers, the right music, everything."
Corbin found even more unique fanbases among gamers by acting in roles for top-selling video games like the evil NSA agent Jackson Cross in the Tex Murphy adventure game The Pandora Directive and another no-nonsense general, Ben Carville, in the Command & Conquer PC games. He also reached teenage TV viewers with his work on The CW teen drama One Tree Hill as the sage basketball coach Whitey Durham, even though, he says, "I'd never seen a basketball game.
"I watched basketball for three days and I just watched the coaches," he says. "They're always out there waving their arms and yelling and screaming. I thought I'm gonna play that when I'm on the court. When I'm not, I'm gonna be Yoda, all zen and just smooth and easy and offer wise advice."
Corbin's career hasn't let up yet. He's still running on full steam from job to job, whether it's a guest spot on a TV show or a supporting role in a major motion picture. He seems to be just as busy as the working actor who made that brave move to New York all those years ago. More recently, he performed some memorable roles in the Coen brothers' 2007 Oscar-winning film No Country for Old Men, Charlie Sheen's FX sitcom Anger Management and even as a motion-capture video game actor in EA Sports' Madden 18 in the game's story-driven Longshot mode.
He's also received some prestigious honors for his work, such as 2014 induction into the Texas Hall of Fame alongside Tommy Lee Jones, and his most recent induction into the Hall of Western Performers at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. Corbin calls his most recent induction "probably the biggest honor for any Western entertainer, sort of equal to the Academy Awards or Golden Globes or something like that."
Corbin says he enjoys the freedom he has now to pick roles he wants to do and relishes the opportunity to meet new actors on sets and catch up with some he's worked for over the years.
He says the business has changed now that television has become so splintered with cable networks and streaming services that make jobs less lucrative than they were when he started. It doesn't seem to bother him as he talks about how fulfilling the work still can be for him.
"Somebody asked me, 'How do you describe your work?'" Corbin says. "I said, 'Think back to caveman days, prehistory when people were sitting around the campfire after working all day hunting, gathering or fishing or doing something. At night, they would sit around the fire, and a stranger comes up and he sits down and tells them stories and they feed him and treat him well until he runs out of stories and they get tired of him and they run him off and he goes to the next village. He's a storyteller. There are some people to work and some people made not to work and I'm one of them. I'm one of those guys who