Harry Dean Stan­ton, leg­endary movie char­ac­ter ac­tor, at 91


LOS AN­GE­LES — For more than 60 years, Harry Dean Stan­ton played crooks and codgers, eccentrics and losers.

He en­dowed them with pathos and com­pas­sion and an­i­mated them with his gaunt, un­for­get­table pres­ence, mak­ing would-be fringe fig­ures feel cen­tral to the films they ap­peared in.

The late critic Roger Ebert once said no movie can be al­to­gether bad if it in­cludes Mr. Stan­ton in a sup­port­ing role, and the wide cult of fans that in­cluded direc­tors and his fel­low actors felt the same.

“I think all actors will agree, no one gives a more hon­est, nat­u­ral, truer per­for­mance than Harry Dean Stan­ton,” di­rec­tor David Lynch said in pre­sent­ing Mr. Stan­ton with the In­au­gu­ral “Harry Dean Stan­ton Award” in Los An­ge­les last year.

Mr. Stan­ton died Fri­day of nat­u­ral causes at a Los An­ge­les hos­pi­tal at age 91, his agent John S. Kel­ley said.

Lynch, a fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tor with the ac­tor in projects such as “Wild at Heart” and the re­cent re­boot of “Twin Peaks,” said in a state­ment af­ter Mr. Stan­ton’s death that “Ev­ery­one loved him. And with good rea­son. He was a great ac­tor (ac­tu­ally be­yond great) — and a great hu­man be­ing.”

When given a rare turn as a lead­ing man, Mr. Stan­ton more than made the most of it. In Wim Wen­ders’ 1984 ru­ral drama “Paris, Texas,” Mr. Stan­ton’s near-word­less per­for­mance is laced with mo­ments of hu­mor and poignancy. His heart­break­ingly stoic de­liv­ery of a mono­logue of re­pen­tance to his wife, played by Nas­tassja Kin­ski, through a one-way mir­ror has become the defin­ing mo­ment in his ca­reer, in a role he said was his fa­vorite.

‘“Paris, Texas’ gave me a chance to play com­pas­sion,” Mr. Stan­ton told an in­ter­viewer, “and I’m spell­ing that with a cap­i­tal C.”

The film won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val and pro­vided the ac­tor with his first star billing, at age 58.

“Repo Man,” re­leased that same year, be­came an­other sig­na­ture film: Mr. Stan­ton starred as the world-weary boss of an auto re­pos­ses­sion firm who in­structs Emilio Estevez in the tricks of the haz­ardous trade.

He was widely loved around Hol­ly­wood, a drinker and smoker and straight talker with a mil­lion sto­ries who palled around with Jack Ni­chol­son and Kris Kristof­fer­son among oth­ers and was a hero to such younger stars and broth­ers-in­par­ty­ing as Rob Lowe and Estevez.

He ap­peared in more than 200 movies and TV shows in a ca­reer dat­ing to the mid-1950s. A cult-fa­vorite since the 1970s with roles in “Cock­fighter,” “Two-Lane Black­top” and “Cisco Pike,” his more fa­mous cred­its ranged from the Os­car-win­ning epic “The God­fa­ther Part II” to the sci-fi clas­sic “Alien” to the teen flick “Pretty in Pink,” in which he played Molly Ring­wald’s fa­ther.

While fringe roles and films were a spe­cialty, he also ended up in the work of many of the 20th cen­tury’s mas­ter au­teurs, even Al­fred Hitch­cock in the di­rec­tor’s se­rial TV show.

“I worked with the best direc­tors,” Mr. Stan­ton told the AP in a 2013 in­ter­view, given while chain-smok­ing in pa­ja­mas and a robe. “Martin Scors­ese, John Hus­ton, David Lynch, Al­fred Hitch­cock. Al­fred Hitch­cock was great.”

He said he could have been a di­rec­tor him­self but “it was too much work.”

By his mid-80s, the Lex­ing­ton Film League in his na­tive Ken­tucky had founded the Harry Dean Stan­ton Fest and film­maker So­phie Hu­ber had made the doc­u­men­tary “Harry Dean Stan­ton: Partly Fic­tion,” which in­cluded com­men­tary from Wen­ders, Sam Shep­ard and Kristof­fer­son.

More re­cently he re­united with Lynch on Show­time’s “Twin Peaks: The Re­turn” where he reprised his role as the cranky trailer park owner Carl from “Fire Walk With Me.” He also stars with Lynch in the up­com­ing film “Lucky,” the di­rec­to­rial de­but of ac­tor John Car­roll Lynch, which has been de­scribed as a love let­ter to Mr. Stan­ton’s life and ca­reer.

Mr. Stan­ton, who early in his ca­reer used the name Dean Stan­ton to avoid con­fu­sion with an­other ac­tor, grew up in West Irvine, Ky., and said he be­gan singing when he was a year old.

Later, he used mu­sic as an es­cape from his par­ents’ quar­rel­ing and the some­times bru­tal treat­ment he was sub­jected to by his fa­ther. As an adult, he fronted his own band for years, play­ing west­ern, Mex­i­can, rock and pop stan­dards in small venues around Los An­ge­les’ San Fer­nando Val­ley. He also sang and played gui­tar and har­mon­ica in im­promptu ses­sions with friends, per­formed a song in “Paris, Texas” and once recorded a duet with Bob Dy­lan.

Mr. Stan­ton, who never lost his Ken­tucky ac­cent, said his in­ter­est in movies was piqued as a child when he would walk out of ev­ery the­ater “think­ing I was Humphrey Bog­art.”

Af­ter Navy ser­vice in the Pa­cific dur­ing World War II, he spent three years at the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky and ap­peared in sev­eral plays. De­ter­mined to make it in Hol­ly­wood, he picked to­bacco to earn his fare west.

Three years at the Pasadena Play­house pre­pared him for tele­vi­sion and movies.

For decades Mr. Stan­ton lived in a small, di­sheveled house over­look­ing the San Fer­nando Val­ley, and was a fix­ture at the West Hol­ly­wood land­mark Dan Tana’s.

Mr. Stan­ton never mar­ried, although he had a long re­la­tion­ship with ac­tress Re­becca De Mor­nay, 35 years his ju­nior. “She left me for Tom Cruise,” Mr. Stan­ton said of­ten.

In list­ing Mr. Stan­ton’s sur­vivors, the state­ment an­nounc­ing his death said only: “Harry Dean is sur­vived by fam­ily and friends who loved him.”

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