William Atherton Knight Jr. (born July 30, 1947) is an American actor, best known for portraying Richard Thornburg in Die Hard and its sequel and Walter Peck in Ghostbusters.
William Atherton's career has spanned motion pictures, Broadway and television. He first achieved international recognition as the leading man in Steven Spielberg's debut feature The Sugarland Express (1974), and next starred in John Schlesinger's The Day of the Locust (1975), Robert Wise's The Hindenburg (1975) and Richard Brooks' Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977). He is known worldwide for what have become his signature film characters: the television reporter, Dick Thornburg in the action blockbusters Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard 2 (1990), the EPA official, Walter Peck in Ghostbusters (1984), Professor Jerry Hathaway, the conniving professor in Real Genius (1985) and Dr. Noah Faulkner, the mad scientist in Bio-Dome (1996). Among his more than 30 feature films are co-starring roles in John Landis' Oscar (1991), Bill Duke's Hoodlum (1997), Richard Pearce's No Mercy (1986), Alan J. Pakula's The Pelican Brief (1993), Costa-Gavras' Mad City (1997) and Edward Zwick's The Last Samurai (2003).
On television, he has starred in numerous miniseries including the classic Western Centennial (1978) and headed the all-star cast in Malibu (1983). His many made-for-TV movies include leading roles in TNT's production of Joan Didion's Broken Trust (1995) and his portrayal of Darryl F. Zanuck in HBO's Golden Globe winner Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999). Atherton was a recurring series lead opposite Damien Lewis on NBC-TV's Life (2007) and portrayed Principal Reynolds in the final season of Lost (2004). He has reprised his role as Walter Peck in the video game Ghostbusters (2009), released on June 16, 2009.
Consistently honored for his work on the stage, Atherton has created roles on and off Broadway for many of America's leading playwrights. These include the title role in Joseph Papp's original production of David Rabe's "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel", the role of Ronnie in John Guare's "The House of Blue Leaves" and Bing Ring Ling in his "Rich and Famous". He also starred in the Broadway premiere of Arthur Miller's "The American Clock" and the Tony-winning revival of Herman Wouk's "The Caine Mutiny Court Martial". Among his more than 20 well-known productions are the acclaimed New York premieres of Franz Kafka's "The Castle" and Kressman Taylor's "Address Unknown". For his work on the stage, he has received the Drama Desk Award, the Outer Circle Critics Award, the Theatre World Award and nominations for an Obie and Chicago's Joseph Jefferson Award.