But he was arguably best known for his role as Roper in the 1973 Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon, which brought martial arts films into the mainstream.
His third wife, Gloria, told The Hollywood Reporter that her husband died in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on Saturday.
Italian-American, he was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1935 and began acting as a teenager in the 1950s.
He made his acting debut in Judy Holliday’s 1954 film It Should Happen to You, where he had an uncredited role as a boy watching an argument in the park.
While his first credited role was in an episode of the TV show Medic where he played a character named Danny Ortega in 1955.
He worked on 198 projects as an actor – with two films to be released.
The actor won a Golden Globe for his role opposite Marlon Brando in the 1996 film The Appaloosa.
While he also rubbed shoulders with British icon Joan Collins while playing the love interest Rashid Ahmed facing his character Alexis Colby in the American soap opera Dynasty.
John earned a sequel for his appearances in B horror films with features like Black Christmas, Queen of Blood, and Nightmare Beach – as well as his role as Police Lieutenant Thompson in the Nightmare on Elm Street film series.
He married three times during his lifetime to screenwriter Mary Ann Murphy between 1967 and 1979, airline and actress Elizabeth Saxon between 1987 and 1992 and, since 2008, cosmetician Gloria Martel.
He is survived by a son and has a sister named Dolores.
Tributes were paid to the star, with screenwriter Larry Karaszewski declaring the late actor “a great guy full of stories”.
Director Joe Dante tweeted, “I had the privilege of working with him once in 2006. Very good actor, very nice guy. ”
As iconic singer and actress Nancy Sinatra tweeted, “Godspeed, Johnny. “