Burkley was born in Van Nuys, California, but grew up in Grand Prairie, Texas, and is a 1968 graduate of TCU.
Burkley’s bearded countenance and bulky build -- the 6-foot-3 actor reportedly weighed as much as 300 pounds, and liked to joke that if he got any bigger, he’d have to have his own area code -- led to his frequently being cast as a thug or biker. But he also played good-natured lugs, guys who weren’t as intimidating as they might initially appear. At TCU, he took one such challenging role as Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
One of Burkley’s early TV series was TEXAS WHEELERS, a short-lived 1975-1976 sitcom about a motherless family in rural Texas that starred the not-yet-famous Gary Busey and Mark Hamill. He appeared in such series as KOJACK, STARSKY AND HUTCH and ONE DAY AT A TIME before scoring a regular role on MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN as truck driver Mac Slattery.
In between acting gigs in the '70s, Burkley worked cleaning pools in the Los Angeles area, including one owned by director-writer Bob Rafelson, who cast Burkley in his 1976 movie Stay Hungry, a bodybuilding drama that provided a breakthrough role for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Burkley also appeared in MAUDE as Sam Dickey after Maude was sent to Congress in the show's final episodes. He played a character of the same name on the never-aired MR. DUGAN and short-lived HANGING IN.
He also starred in SANFORD, a short-lived 1980-1981 effort to revive SANFORD AND SON (which had ended three years earlier) without the Son. Burkley got second billing as Cal Pettie, a southerner who invested $2,000 to become part of the “Sanford Empire” run by Fred Sanford, the cantankerous junkman played by Redd Foxx.
The actor’s dozens of movie roles included playing a biker in 1985's Mask, starring Eric Stoltz as a young man with a cranial deformity and Cher as his protective biker mother. Burkley told the Star-Telegram in 1991 that the movie was a turning point in his typecasting, but not in a wholly positive way.
Burkley worked steadily throughout the ’80s and ’90s (he shares with George Clooney the distinction of having appeared in both the 1984-1985 sitcom E/R and the much more famous ER).
He also had a more philosophical outlook on his biker roles: “Thank God for bikers — they bought my house,” he said. “I’ve played at least four characters named Bubba.”
In recent years, Burkley (who had shed about 100 pounds) had taught acting classes in California, and had a recurring role on KING OF THE HILL as Principal Moss, as well as contributing several other voices. He also made several appearances on MY NAME IS EARL.