Harry Dean Stanton, probably best known for his work in “Twin Peaks” and the films Alien and Paris, Texas; died on Friday, September 15th in Los Angeles. His agent says his death was due to natural causes. Stanton was 91.
Born in Kentucky in 1926, Stanton attended the University of Kentucky and then studied acting at the famed Pasadena Playhouse. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, like many actors of his generation.
Harry Dean Stanton landed his first credited role in 1957’s Tomahawk Trail after making two uncredited appearances in films the prior year. In 1967 he appeared in two of the best movies of the year, In the Heat of the Night and Cool Hand Luke. Paris, Texas in 1984 was his breakout performance, although he had worked steadily in both film and television throughout the period between his debut and 1984.
Some of our favorite Harry Dean Stanton film turns include:
1980’s The Black Marble, based on one of the many Joseph Wambaugh novels about the Los Angeles Police Department. He played “Philo Skinner,” a degenerate gambler who eked out a living as a mildly successful groomer for show dogs. He kidnaps a dog for ransom.
In 1981 writer/director John Carpenter cast Stanton as “Harold ‘Brain’ Hellman” in Escape from New York.
1982’s Private Benjamin, where he played “Sergeant First Class Jim Ballard,” the fast-talking Army recruiter who overhears Goldie Hawn as “Judy Benjamin” on a radio talk-show and cons her into enlisting in the Army.
1984’s Red Dawn found Harry Dean Stanton playing “Tom Eckert,” a hardware store owner imprisoned by the invading Soviet/Cuban military forces. Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen played his sons who did indeed avenge him. The statute of limitations for *SPOILER ALERTS* has expired on this movie.
Down Periscope was a 1996 comedy starring Kelsey Grammer as a very unconventional U.S. Navy sub commander leading a crew of misfits that included Harry Dean Stanton as “Howard.” Howard was the sub’s engineer. Lauren Holly is a sultry officer on her first assignment aboard a sub.
While the 1997 Steven Seagal film The Fire Down Below definitely deserves its rating of 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, there is something endearing about Harry Dean Stanton’s portrayal of “Cotton Harry.”
The Mighty came out in 1998 starring Kieran Culkin, Sharon Stone and Elden Henson. An excellent film, it co-starred Harry Dean Stanton and Gena Rowlands as the grandparents of Henson’s character. Ms Stone would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in this movie.
While The Fire Down Below is overrated at 11%, 1999’s The Straight Story might be underrated at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. It was and will always be Richard Farnsworth’s film, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Harry Dean Stanton’s role as the brother of Farnsworth’s character is small but he shines in it.
2012’s Seven Psychopaths was yet another great character role for Harry Dean Stanton as “The Quaker.”
We will miss you, Mr. Stanton. RIP