Tom “Tiny” Lister, who used his imposing size to play to and against type in over 200 films, TV series and music videos has been found dead in his Marina del Rey, CA apartment on Thursday after complaining of COVID-19 symptoms. He was 62.
Born in Compton, CA, Lister was born blind in his right eye due to a birth defect. This did not stop him from excelling in athletics. He earned a track and field scholarship from California State University at Los Angeles. His specialty was the shot put, eventually becoming 1982 NCAA Division II National Shot Put Champion. His Alma Mater hosted a “Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister Classic track meet from 2007 to 2012 and in 2008 Lister was named to the NCAA Hall of Fame for his skill in Track and Field.
Lister’s athletic prowess led him to a try out with the New Orleans Breakers of the United States Football League. But his true passion was acting. His acting career began by playing a football player on a November 1984 episode of Webster. This led to small roles in films and TV shows like Beverly Hills Cop II and Armed and Dangerous.
In 1989, Lister was cast in No Holds Barred. Constructed as a star-making vehicle for then-WWF star Hulk Hogan, Lister was cast as Zeus, the unstoppable menace that Hogan’s Rip Thomas must overcome in the wrestling ring. As part of the promotion for the film, Lister blurred the line between fiction and fake reality, reprising his role as Zeus in the WWF starting in April of 1989 and culminating in the “No Holds Barred” Pay-Per-View in December 27, 1989. He would go on to have brief stints as a wrestler in Puerto Rico and with WWF’s rival, WCW.
Six year later, Lister would star in arguably his most famous role, that of neighborhood bully “Deebo” in Friday, a role he would reprise in that film’s 2000 sequel, Next Friday.
Lister would also shine in roles that took him beyond his typical bodyguard/tough guy roles. Such roles as President Lindberg in 1997’s The Fifth Element, as skip-tracer Winston in the same year’s Jackie Brown, and as the convict who does the right thing in 2008’s The Dark Knight.