OBIT­U­AR­IES

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY LINDSEY BAHR

Char­ac­ter ac­tor Harry Dean Stanton be­came a cult fa­vorite through his many mem­o­rable roles.

Harry Dean Stanton, the sham­bling, craggy-faced char­ac­ter ac­tor with the dead­pan voice who be­came a cult fa­vorite through his mem­o­rable turns in “Paris, Texas,” “Repo Man,” “Big Love” and many other films and TV shows, died Sept. 15 at a hos­pi­tal in Los An­ge­les. He was 91.

Mr. Stanton’s agent John S. Kelly con­firmed the death but did not pro­vide a cause.

Not of­ten a lead­ing man, Mr. Stanton was an un­for­get­table pres­ence to movie­go­ers, fel­low ac­tors and di­rec­tors, who rec­og­nized that his quirky char­ac­ter­i­za­tions could lift even the most or­di­nary script. Critic Roger Ebert once ob­served that “no movie fea­tur­ing ei­ther Harry Dean Stanton or M. Em­met Walsh in a sup­port­ing role can be al­to­gether bad.”

He was widely loved around Hol­ly­wood — a drinker, smoker and straight talker with a mil­lion sto­ries who was pals with Jack Ni­chol­son and Kris Kristof­fer­son and a hero to younger stars and broth­ers-in-par­ty­ing such as Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez. “I don’t act like their fa­ther,” he once told New York mag­a­zine. “I act like their friend.”

Al­most al­ways cast as a crook, a codger, an ec­cen­tric or a loser, he ap­peared in more than 200 movies and TV shows in a ca­reer dat­ing to the mid-1950s. He had been a cult fa­vorite since the 1970s with roles in “Cock­fighter,” “TwoLane Black­top” and “Cisco Pike.” His more fa­mous cred­its in­cluded the Os­car-win­ning epic “The God­fa­ther: Part II” (1974), the sci-fi clas­sic “Alien” (1979) and the teen flick “Pretty in Pink” (1986), in which he played Molly Ring­wald’s fa­ther.

He also guest-starred on TV shows such as “Lav­erne & Shirley,” “Adam-12” and “Gun­smoke.” He had a cameo on “Two and a Half Men,” which fea­tured “Pretty in Pink” star Jon Cryer, and ap­peared in movies such as “The Avengers” and “The Last Stand.”

Fit­ting for a char­ac­ter ac­tor, he be­came fa­mous only in late mid­dle age. In Wim Wen­ders’s 1984 ru­ral drama “Paris, Texas,” he earned ac­claim for his sub­tle and af­fect­ing por­trayal of a man so deeply haunted by some­thing in his past that he aban­doned his young son and so­ci­ety to wan­der silently in the desert.

Wiry and sad, Mr. Stanton de­liv­ered a near-word­less per­for­mance laced with mo­ments of hu­mor and poignancy. His stoic de­liv­ery of a mono­logue of re­pen­tance to his wife, played by Nas­tassja Kin­ski, through a oneway mir­ror, has become the defin­ing mo­ment in his ca­reer.

“‘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 Palme d’Or 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 Estevez in the tricks of the hazardous trade.

His legend would only grow. 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 2012 doc­u­men­tary “Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fic­tion,” which in­cluded com­men­tary from Wen­ders, Sam Shep­ard and Kristof­fer­son.

More re­cently, he re­united with di­rec­tor David Lynch on Show­time’s “Twin Peaks: The Re­turn,” repris­ing his role as the cranky trailer-park owner Carl from “Fire Walk With Me” (1992).

On the HBO se­ries “Big Love,” which ran from 2006 to 2011, Mr. Stanton por­trayed Ro­man Grant, known as the Prophet, who was the leader of a polyg­a­mous sect in ru­ral Utah.

He also stars 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. The film, which opens Sept. 29, de­picts the spir­i­tual jour­ney of a desert-town athe­ist, played by Mr. Stanton.

Last year, Lynch pre­sented Mr. Stanton with the “Harry Dean Stanton Award,” the in­au­gu­ral award from the Los An­ge­les video store Vid­iots — pre­sented first to its name­sake.

“As a per­son, Harry Dean is just so beau­ti­ful. He’s got this easy­go­ing na­ture. It’s so great just to sit be­side Harry Dean and ob­serve,” Lynch said at the show. “He’s got a great in­ner peace. As a mu­si­cian, he can sing so beau­ti­fully tears just flow out of your eyes. And as an ac­tor, I think all ac­tors will agree, no one gives a more hon­est, nat­u­ral, truer per­for­mance than Harry Dean Stanton.”

Harry Dean Stanton, who early in his ca­reer used the name Dean Stanton to avoid con­fu­sion with an­other ac­tor, was born in West Irvine, Ky., on July 14, 1926. 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 in Los An­ge­les’s 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. He was at­tacked in his home in 1996 by two rob­bers who forced their way in, tied him up at gun­point, beat him, ran­sacked the house and fled in his Lexus. He was not se­ri­ously hurt, and the as­sailants, who were cap­tured, were sen­tenced to prison.

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

“I might have had two or three [kids] out of mar­riage,” he once re­called. “But that’s an­other story.”

MARK MAINZ/GETTY IMAGES/AFI

Harry Dean Stanton, above at the AFI Fest in 2006, was work­ing well into his se­nior years. At right, Mr. Stanton hugs Nas­tassja Kin­ski in 1984 dur­ing a photo ses­sion at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val with “Paris, Texas” di­rec­tor Wim Wen­ders, cen­ter, and Dean Stock­well.

MICHEL LIPCHITZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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