Harry Dean Stanton (14 July 1926 – 15 September 2017)
For a long time he was just plain old Dean Stanton, appearing here and there in supporting roles in a gamut of movies and TV shows from 1954 (where for once he was Harry Stanton) through to 1971. During that time he was an Hysterical Patient in Psychiatric Ward in Voice in the Mirror (1958), Poetry-reciting Beatnik in The Man from the Diner’s Club (1963), and even Blind Dick in Ride in the Whirlwind (1966). He was the character actor who popped up seemingly everywhere, appeared in a few scenes, got himself noticed in an “oh it’s him” kind of way, and then vanished again only to repeat the same scenario in his next movie or TV episode. In the Fifties and Sixties there were lots of actors like Stanton making minor impressions on audiences, but Stanton stuck to it, and even if audiences weren’t always aware of who he was (aside from in an “oh it’s him” kind of way), the industry certainly did.
Stanton was a versatile actor whose career never really took off in the way that some of his contemporaries’ – such as Jack Nicholson – did. He never seemed to mind though and often took roles just because he liked them (he was a great advocate of the saying, there are no small parts, only small actors). But his career did take a huge leap forward in 1984 when he made two movies that sealed his fame as an actor forever. Alex Cox tapped him for the role of Bud in Repo Man, and Sam Shepard wrote the part of Travis Henderson for him in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. The role of Travis, a lost soul trying to reunite with his family after having vanished years before, required Stanton to be still and silent for long stretches of the movie, but he used his weather-worn features and skill and experience to ensure the character retained a whole host of recognisable emotions and feelings. It was a performance that perfectly encapsulated his abilities as an actor, and should have allowed him to take on more leading roles, but again, he was happy with his choices, and his career continued to keep him busy.
Away from acting, Stanton was also an accomplished musician, appearing internationally as part of The Harry Dean Stanton Band, and garnering rave reviews for the band’s unique spin on mariachi music. He’s also one of the few actors to have an annual movie festival created to honour him; The Harry Dean Stanton Fest has been running since 2011 in Lexington, Kentucky (this year’s event runs 28-30 September). But perhaps the highest praise Stanton ever received was from critic Roger Ebert. Ebert stated that “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.” And aside from Dream a Little Dream (1989), he was absolutely right.
1 – Straight Time (1978)
2 – Wise Blood (1979)
3 – Alien (1979)
4 – Escape from New York (1981)
5 – Repo Man (1984)
6 – Paris, Texas (1984)
7 – Wild at Heart (1990)
8 – The Mighty (1998)
9 – Sonny (2002)
10 – INLAND EMPIRE (2006)