One of Hollywood’s finest character actors and Indie film icons, Harry Dean Stanton sadly passed away this weekend at the age of 91. A veteran of over sixty movies in a career that spanned six decades, marked Stanton down as a prolific figure in Hollywood.
From bit part roles in such classics as The Godfather Part 2, The Green Mile and the Last Temptation of Christ, Stanton was a rarity, a constant presence, a journeyman who received acclaim through the alternative side of Hollywood, he had supporting parts in everything from Cool Hand Luke, Alien, Repo Man, Escape from New York, Pretty in Pink, Wild at Heart and most famously Paris, Texas, just one of the great independent films that he will be remembered for.
He was a great character actor, unassuming, his down trodden looks and weathered appearance making him an appealing personality for casting producers. The late film critic, Roger Ebert once said,
“No film starring Harry Dean Stanton in a supporting role can be altogether bad.”
Superstar status did knock on his door occasionally, he worked with Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and John Carpenter and only recently starred in the new Twin Peaks series.
When Paris, Texas came out in 1984, it immediately garnered attention for its mesmerizing guitar riff from Rye Cooder, which became synonymous with the most recognised desert scenes.
The story of a man called Travis, who wanders out of the desert memory lost, and trying to piece together his own history captured the imagination, and deservedly won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. As Travis, (Stanton) tries to make sense of his life, he is reunited with his forgotten son, Hunter, and is drawn to the underbelly of life in Houston as he searches for his missing wife, memorably played by Natasha Kinski in possibly her finest performance.
When Travis finally tracks her down, she is sitting on the other side of a one-way mirror in a sleazy peepshow. The telephone conversations that Travis has with his missing wife who can’t see him, inspired David Lynch and many other Directors to try and match a scene that is truly heartbreaking.
Such was the impact of the film that a newly formed Scottish band, Texas, named themselves after it, Bono still says it partly inspire The Joshua Tree, and when another 90’s, Scottish acoustic band wanted a name well they plumped for Travis of course.
Stanton’s laconic, hangdog style meant that he was always the bridesmaid, and although Paris, Texas failed to launch him to A-list status, he was never out of work, thanks to David Lynch, for whom he starred in Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Inland Empire and memorably as the estranged brother at the end of the road in the multi Oscar nominated, Straight Story.
Stanton was in demand right up until his 90th birthday, and for those saddened by the news of his passing, his swansong, Lucky, in which he plays a 90-year-old atheist on a spiritual journey to understand his own mortality, yet to be released, is getting some very positive murmurings. The film has already drawn critical acclaim on the festival circuit and is pencilled for release in two weeks time on 29th September.
Harry Dean Stanton was one of the good guys, revered in Hollywood, respected by Directors and Co-stars alike for his versatility and affable approach, but below the surface there was an actor so capable one wonders what could have been had a truly big role come his way.
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