He was one of his generation’s greatest character actors. He was as at home in summer blockbusters as he was in indie darlings as he was in esoteric cult fare. Roger Ebert honored him by saying no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad. Harry Dean Stanton was an American legend, and he passed away today at the age of 91. He died of natural causes.
Stanton got his start in acting in the 1950s, appearing in small, often uncredited roles in films and guest appearances on television shows. His friend, Jack Nicholson, helped him to make the leap to larger roles by writing a role as a villain for him in Nicholson’s 1966 writing and directing effort, Ride in the Whirlwind. From that point on, Stanton started receiving larger supporting roles in films such as Cool Hand Luke, Kelly’s Heroes, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, The Godfather: Part II, Renaldo & Clara, Alien, The Rose, Private Benjamin and Escape from New York.
1984 was a breakthrough year for Stanton, one that came to sum up what his career would become. First was playing Emilio Estevez’s mentor in the cult hit, Repo Man. Next, was a starring turn in Wim Wenders art-house film, Paris Texas. Then came a role in the big-budget blockbuster, Red Dawn. Stanton would shift between those three genres for the rest of his career.
In 1990, he starred in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. He would reteam with the director five more times over the next 27 years, on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and the recent Showtime reboot, the anthology TV series, Hotel Room, The Straight Story and Inland Empire.
He has two films set to be released: Lucky, which is set to arrive in theaters on September 29th of this year, and Frank and Ava, which has yet to be scheduled.