Harry Dean Stanton, a talented (and longtime) character actor who became a leading man with his indelible portrayal of Travis in Wim Wenders’ 1984 Palme d’or winner, “Paris, Texas,” died Friday in Los Angeles. He was 91.
Stanton, born in West Irvine, KY, served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. Returning home, he attended the University of Kentucky, leaving after three years to move to California to study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. His earliest TV roles were on popular westerns and he played endless cowboys for two decades. He went on to appear in more than 200 movies and TV episodes.
Attracting attention with his specific gifts, he was cast in more important projects, including “Straight Time” (1978), “Alien,” “Wise Blood” and “The Rose” (all 1979) and “Escape From New York” (1981).
In addition to “Paris, Texas,” Stanton also starred in Alex Cox’s “Repro Man” in 1984. With his amazing face, unique voice–he was also an accomplished singer and musician–and friendly and yet, more than a bit enigmatic demeanor, Stanton was now a star/cult figure. In 1986 he hosted “Saturday Night Live.”
Working with prestigious directors, he had roles in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” (1990) and “The Straight Story” (1999) and Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998). He also appeared in three seasons of HBO’s “Big Love,” garnering significant attention. Continuing to work into his 80s and 90s, he was featured in “The Avengers” (2012) and this year he was part of the cast of “Twin Peaks.”
Roger Ebert applauded Stanton’s gifts when he said, “No film with his presence could be without merit.”
A 21-film retrospective, “Also Starring Harry Dear Stanton,” will open at the Quad on Friday, September 22 and will run through Tuesday, October 3. On Friday, September 29, “Lucky,” starring Stanton as a 90-year-old atheist, living in an off-the-map desert town, will open at the Quad. Character actor John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut has been described as “a love letter to the life and career of Harry Dear Stanton, as well as a meditation on mortality, loneliness, spirituality and human connection.”