The Thing

"What the hell happened here?"
― Copper, while investigating Thule Station

Copper was a physician stationed at American Antarctic research station, U.S. Outpost 31. The character appears in the 1982 film The Thing and was portrayed by the late Richard Dysart. His fate is also briefly touched upon in the 1991 comic series The Thing From Another World.


During the winter of 1982, Copper and the rest of the crew witnessed two Norwegians chasing an Alaskan Malamute towards the outpost in a helicopter. The pilot was killed when he accidentally dropped a grenade and the passenger was shot dead by station commander Garry, who thought that he was hostile. The crew adopted the dog afterwards.

Copper later treated Bennings who was accidentally shot in the leg earlier by the Norwegian whom Garry killed. Unable to contact the outside world via hand radio, Copper and helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady risk a flight to the Norwegian camp only to find it destroyed, its personnel missing or dead (one of them committed suicide). Depite this, they do find evidence that the Norwegians had dug something out of the ice. The pair return to the station with the partially-burned remains of a hideous creature which bears some human features.

During the night, he was woken up by the fire alarm that was turned on by MacReady, he saw an unknown creature assimilating the dogs, MacReady ordered Childs to bring the flamethrower and ordered him to incinerate it. Bennings was later assimilated by the remains of the Norwegian Thing, MacReady later incinerates the Bennings replica. Blair suffers a total mental breakdown, he destroyed the helicopters, tractor and radio with an axe, and killed the remaining sled dogs, containing further contamination. The team overpowers him and locks him in the tool shed. With all contact to civilization cut off, the crew wonders how to determine who is still human.

A torn shirt is found, confirming that the alien has indeed already assimilated at least one other person in the camp beside Bennings, but the name tag is torn out and the shirt cannot be matched to any one individual because they all wear the same size. Paranoia quickly sets in as the first attempt to develop a test using uncontaminated blood samples is sabotaged by an unknown party. Copper is one of suspected people because he had free access to the blood samples. As MacReady takes command of the station, he orders to tie and drug Copper alongside Garry and Clark.

Fuchs' body is found severely burned. MacReady speculates that Fuchs used a flare to burn himself before the Thing could get to him. He and the others then suspect MacReady had been assimilated by the creature when a scrap of torn shirt containing his name tag is found at the camp, and locks him outside in a severe blizzard.

MacReady somehow finds his way back to camp without a guide line, breaks into a storage room and threatens the rest of the crew with dynamite. In the course of the standoff, Norris suffers a heart attack. Copper attempts to revive him by defibrillation, however Norris' body transforms and violently tears off Copper's arms with its jaws, and he quickly dies due to shock and blood loss.

Later, after MacReady conducts a makeshift blood test to determine who is still human, it is discovered that Copper had not been assimilated by The Thing and was human at the time of his death.

The circumstances of his passing would seem to make it obvious that he was not himself a Thing (another Thing violently attacked and killed him), so the blood test might appear superfluous. Possibly, MacReady wanted to safeguard against the possibility that the infection Copper would have been exposed to could spread through even a dead body, and Copper suddenly "resurrecting" as a Thing. If he had already been a Thing before his death, MacReady would have to assume that a Copper-Thing was attempting an elaborate ruse where he would be "killed" by another Thing and so seemingly proven human, then playing dead until the time came for a surprise attack. Whatever MacReady's reason for testing him was, the test only demonstrated that he was, indeed, uninfected.


  • Richard Dysart (Copper's actor) was for a while the oldest living cast member of The Thing. He died April 5th, 2015 due to cancer at 86 years old.
  • During the scene in which Dr. Copper has his arms severed, a double amputee stand-in was used wearing a Richard Dysart mask. The audience focuses on the bloody stumps while the mask goes unnoticed.
  • Like Sam Carter, Copper had a piercing, albeit on the nose rather than the ear. It can be seen in his right nostril during close-up shots of his face.
  • The infamous "defibrillator scene" in which Copper dies never happened Who Goes There?, in which Copper actually survived.
  • In an older draft of the script, Copper survived the Norris-Thing attacking him and instead he died by the Palmer-Thing eating his entire head.