Beloved character actor Harry Dean Stanton passed away of natural causes in Los Angeles on Friday.
Never one to let age slow him down — he was 91 — the actor was seen in a highly praised role in the third season of “Twin Peaks,” which just finished airing on the third of September.
He can also be seen in the upcoming film “Lucky,” set for release on September 29.
Stanton toiled in near-obscurity for decades until he was cast by writer and actor Sam Shepard — who also passed away this year — in the 1984 classic “Paris, Texas.”
Stanton played a man reconnecting with his family after being presumably lost for four years, and earned critical attention immediately.
“Stanton has long inhabited the darker corners of American noir, with his lean face and hungry eyes, and here he creates a sad poetry,” wrote the late movie critic Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Stanton has long inhabited the darker corners of American noir.”
After “Paris, Texas,” Stanton hit the mainstream, with beloved roles in films such as “Pretty in Pink” and “Repo Man.”
He had also had small roles in the hit films “The Godfather: Part II,” “Alien,” and “Red Dawn.”
Stanton said his method of acting came together when he got advice from one of his best friends, Jack Nicholson.
After Stanton was cast as the leader of a gang in the 1966 western “Ride the Whirlwind,” he said Nicholson told him to “let the wardrobe do the acting and just play yourself.” Stanton explained to Entertainment Weekly, “After Jack said that, my whole approach to acting opened up.”
The advice paid off, as Stanton became one of the most recognizable faces of cinema, a highlight in every movie and television show in which he appeared.
Born in Kentucky, Stanton served in the Navy during World War II and then attended the University of Kentucky for journalism and radio. The acting bug bit him after he performed there — and he headed to California.
After decades in the trenches of the industry, Stanton emerged from obscurity as a testament to how the hard work and resilience of an artist could mold something versatile and spellbinding in front of a camera.
Stanton was also a musician, and he performed in a scene of the recently aired third season of “Twin Peaks.” He performed in bands under different names — such as Harry Dean Stanton and the Repo Men and also the Harry Dean Stanton Band — and he was friends with Bob Dylan. He performed at the funeral of another famous friend, writer Hunter S. Thompson.
Two documentaries were made about Stanton’s life and work.
In honor of the artist’s legacy, here is a look at his three best performances.
1.) “Paris, Texas” (1984). This film offered Stanton a rare moment to be a leading man. While films such as “Repo Man” gave him the opportunity to use his unique abilities to be quick and playful, “Paris, Texas” was a somber film that allowed him to be spellbinding in the quietest of ways.
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Playing a man who has been missing for four years and is now reconnecting with family and loved ones, he showed the magnitude of his talent. At 58 years old, he gave the role of Travis Henderson everything he had. It paid off. The film is a near-masterpiece, and a lot of the reason is Stanton.
2.) “Pretty in Pink” (1986). Most mainstream audiences probably know Stanton from his role as the down-on-his-luck father in “Pretty in Pink.” Many actors would have overplayed the role or reduced it to simple basics, but Stanton made the most of his supporting position in the film.
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The actor plays a sympathetic, complicated father to Molly Ringwald’s main character. You feel this character has lived a lifetime. It’s the perfect proof Stanton only needed a handful of scenes to bring weight to his character that most traditional leading men can’t accomplish.
3.) “Twin Peaks.” This show dominated social media conversation while it aired over the summer, and one of the most beloved characters was Stanton’s: He played a trailer park manager with a heart of gold.
At 91 years old, Stanton was given the opportunity to truly act — and present an evolved character dealing with the drawbacks of old age.
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In a very dark season, Stanton served as a bright spot; his was one of the few characters to give a sense of hope to the rest of the series. It’s quite a high note for the performer’s career to end on and proof he only got better with age and time.
In a statement following the news of Stanton’s death, “Twin Peaks” creator David Lynch said through the show’s social media, “The great Harry Dean Stanton has left us. There was a great one. There’s nobody like Harry Dean. Everybody loved him. And with good reason. He was a great actor (actually beyond great) — and a great human being — so great to be around him!!! You are really going to be missed Harry Dean!!! Loads of love to wherever you are now!!!”
(photo credit, homepage and article images: Showtime)