Harry Dean Stanton, A Supporting Actor Who Became A Star, Dies At 91


Stanton had a lifelong love of music. Above, he performs at Greenpeace's 35th anniversary celebration in Los Angeles in September 2006.
Jae C. Hong, AP

Stanton had a lifelong love of music. Above, he performs at Greenpeace's 35th anniversary celebration in Los Angeles in September 2006.

Actor Harry Dean Stanton was cast in supporting roles for decades, and his weather-beaten face became a fixture on-screen for more than a half-century. With leading roles in the 1980s films Repo Man and Paris, Texas, he became something of a star and a cult favorite. His agent says Stanton died Friday of natural causes in Los Angeles. He was 91.

The 1984 film Paris, Texas opens on a thin, weathered man wearing an old suit and a red baseball cap, wandering the desert with an empty water jug. That's Stanton, in his first lead role — at age 58. He's Travis Henderson, a beat-down guy who left his wife years ago, taking their son with him.

He comes back and finds her in a Houston peep show, where he delivers a 10-minute monologue through a one-way mirror. She can't see him, but gradually, she realizes it's her husband, telling her the story of his life. The family reunites, and Stanton's performance as a lead actor — after decades as a character actor — made him a star.

Stanton was born in Kentucky to a tobacco farmer father and a hairdresser mother. He studied theater at the University of Kentucky, served in the Navy in World War II, and then went to Hollywood. With his deep-set eyes and hawk nose he was cast over and over as an outlaw or an oddball.

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He appeared in more than 100 TV and film roles, from Cool Hand Luke to The Godfather Part II to the first Alien in 1979. Of course (spoiler alert) Stanton gets eaten by the Alien monster, and that's the way it was until 1984, when he starred in Paris, Texas and the cult classic Repo Man. Stanton was the Repo Man, Bud, schooling young Emilio Estevez's character, Otto.

Every once in a while he was cast as a normal guy — he played Molly Ringwald's father in Pretty in Pink — but that was about it. Stanton was in six David Lynch movies and played the polygamist cult leader Roman Grant on HBO's Big Love. Occasionally you would hear Stanton sing; music was his other love — he sang and played harmonica onstage and off.

In the 2012 documentary Partly Fiction, Stanton answered some deep questions from his friend and colleague, director David Lynch. His answers were sort of Buddhist and very Harry Dean Stanton. Asked to describe himself, he responded, "Nothing. There is no self." Asked how he wanted to be remembered, his answer was, "Doesn't matter."

It may not have mattered to him, but the rest of us will remember Harry Dean Stanton as a singular presence on-screen.

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