Harry Dean Stanton

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Harry Dean Stanton
Stanton in 2006
Born(1926-07-14)July 14, 1926
DiedSeptember 15, 2017(2017-09-15) (aged 91)
Alma materUniversity of Kentucky
Pasadena Playhouse
Years active1954–2017

Harry Dean Stanton (July 14, 1926 – September 15, 2017) was an American actor. In a career that spanned more than six decades, Stanton played supporting roles in films including Cool Hand Luke (1967), Kelly's Heroes (1970), Dillinger (1973), The Godfather Part II (1974), Alien (1979), Escape from New York (1981), Christine (1983), Repo Man (1984), One Magic Christmas (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Wild at Heart (1990), The Straight Story (1999), The Green Mile (1999), The Man Who Cried (2000), Alpha Dog (2006), Inland Empire (2006), The Avengers (2012), and Seven Psychopaths (2012). He had rare lead roles in Paris, Texas (1984) and in Lucky (2017).

Early life[edit]

Stanton was born in West Irvine, Kentucky, to Sheridan Harry Stanton, a tobacco farmer and barber, and Ersel (née Moberly), a cook.[1] His parents divorced when Stanton was in high school; both later remarried.[2]

Stanton had two younger brothers and a younger half-brother. His family had a musical background. Stanton attended Lafayette High School[2] and the University of Kentucky in Lexington where he performed at the Guignol Theatre under the direction of theater director Wallace Briggs,[3] and studied journalism and radio arts. "I could have been a writer," he told an interviewer for a 2011 documentary, Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland, in which he sings and plays the harmonica.[4] "I had to decide if I wanted to be a singer or an actor. I was always singing. I thought if I could be an actor, I could do all of it." Briggs encouraged him to leave the university and become an actor. He studied at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California, where his classmates included his friends Tyler MacDuff and Dana Andrews.[5]

During World War II, Stanton served in the United States Navy, including a stint as a cook aboard the USS LST-970, a tank landing ship, during the Battle of Okinawa.[6][7]


Stanton appeared in indie and cult films (Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter, Escape from New York, Repo Man) as well as mainstream Hollywood productions, including Cool Hand Luke, The Godfather Part II, Alien, Red Dawn, Pretty in Pink, Alpha Dog, Stephen King's Christine, and The Green Mile. He was a favorite actor of the directors Sam Peckinpah, John Milius, David Lynch, and Monte Hellman, and was also close friends with Francis Ford Coppola and Jack Nicholson. He was best man at Nicholson's wedding in 1962.[8]

He made his first television appearance in 1954 in Inner Sanctum. He played Stoneman in the Have Gun – Will Travel 1959 episode "Treasure Trail", credited under Dean Stanton. He made his film debut in 1957 in the Western Tomahawk Trail.[1] He appeared (uncredited) as a complaining BAR man at the beginning of the 1959 film Pork Chop Hill starring Gregory Peck. Then in 1962, he had a very small part in How the West Was Won, portraying one of Charlie Gant's (Eli Wallach) gang. The following year he had a minor role as a poetry-reciting beatnik in The Man from the Diner's Club. Early in his career, he took the name Dean Stanton to avoid confusion with the actor Harry Stanton.[1]

His breakthrough part[9] came with the lead role in Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas. Playwright Sam Shepard, who wrote the film's script, had spotted Stanton at a bar in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1983 while both were attending a film festival in that city. The two fell into conversation. "I was telling him I was sick of the roles I was playing," Stanton recalled in a 1986 interview. "I told him I wanted to play something of some beauty or sensitivity. I had no inkling he was considering me for the lead in his movie."[9] Not long afterward, Shepard phoned him in Los Angeles to offer Stanton the part of the protagonist, Travis,[9] "a role that called for the actor to remain largely silent ... as a lost, broken soul trying to put his life back together and reunite with his estranged family after having vanished years earlier."[10]

Stanton was a favorite of film critic Roger Ebert, who said that "no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad." However, Ebert later admitted that Dream a Little Dream (1989), in which Stanton appeared, was a "clear violation" of this rule.[11]

He had eight appearances between 1958 and 1968 on Gunsmoke, four on the network's Rawhide, three on The Untouchables, two on Bonanza, and an episode of The Rifleman. He played the wrongly accused Lucius Brand (credited as Dean Stanton) in "The Wild Wild West" S3 E7 "The Night of the Hangman" (1967). He later had a cameo in Two and a Half Men (having previously appeared with Jon Cryer in Pretty in Pink and with Charlie Sheen in Red Dawn). Beginning in 2006, Stanton featured as Roman Grant, the manipulative leader/prophet of a polygamous sect on the HBO television series Big Love.[8]

Stanton also occasionally toured nightclubs as a singer and guitarist, playing mostly country-inflected cover tunes.[7] He appeared in the Dwight Yoakam music video for "Sorry You Asked",[12] portrayed a cantina owner in a Ry Cooder video for "Get Rhythm",[12] and participated in the video for Bob Dylan's "Dreamin' of You".[12] He worked with a number of musical artists, Dylan, Art Garfunkel, and Kris Kristofferson[13] among them, and played harmonica on The Call's 1989 album Let the Day Begin.[14]

Stanton signing autographs in 2015

In 2010, Stanton appeared in an episode of the TV series Chuck, reprising his role in the 1984 film Repo Man. In 2011, the Lexington Film League created an annual festival, the Harry Dean Stanton Fest, to honor Stanton in the city where he spent much of his adolescence.[2][nb 1] In 2012, he had a brief cameo in The Avengers and a key role in the action-comedy Seven Psychopaths. He also appeared in the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film The Last Stand (2013). Stanton was the subject of a 2013 documentary, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, directed by Sophie Huber and featuring film clips, interviews with collaborators (including Wenders, Shepard, Kris Kristofferson, and David Lynch), and Stanton's singing.

In 2017, he appeared in Twin Peaks: The Return, a continuation of David Lynch's 1990–91 television series.[1] Stanton reprised his role as Carl Rodd from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.[1] His last on-screen appearances are as a sheriff in Frank & Ava and a starring role as a 90-year-old man nicknamed "Lucky" and his struggles against encroaching old age in Lucky.

Personal life and death[edit]

Stanton was never married, though he had a short relationship with actress Rebecca De Mornay in 1981–82.[19] "I might have had two or three [kids] out of marriage," he once told the Associated Press. "But that's another story."[19]

Stanton died aged 91 on September 15, 2017, from heart failure, at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.[20][1][8] A small marker containing his cremated remains was established in a cemetery in Nicholasville, Kentucky.[21]

In popular culture[edit]

Stanton was celebrated in "I Want That Man", a 1989 song recorded by Deborah Harry which begins with the line "I want to dance with Harry Dean".[22] In her memoir, Harry writes that Stanton heard the song and arranged to meet her at a club in London.

Pop Will Eat Itself released a track titled "Harry Dean Stanton" on their album The Looks or the Lifestyle? His lead role in the film Paris, Texas, was memorialized in Hayes Carll's 2019 song "American Dream" with the lyrics, "like Harry Dean Stanton on a drive-in screen, a tumbleweed blowing through Paris, Texas, he fell down into the American dream."[23]

Ian McNabb recorded the song "Harry Dean Stanton" on his album Utopian, released in January 2021. McNabb noted the following about the track: "I didn't know too much about him and didn't really want to because I knew I had to write a song using his name as the title, so I wrote these lyrics for and around him - I imagined what it must be like to be him - while dropping some of my own experiences into the narrative. I was lurking around Dylan's "Blind Willie McTell" and "Lenny Bruce" - I wanted that atmosphere. I've never claimed to be original."[24]

Selected filmography[edit]

Selected television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1960 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Lemon Season 5 Episode 37: "Escape to Sonoita"
1968 The Virginian (TV series) Clint Daggert Season 7 Episode 08 (Ride to Misadventure)
1993 Hotel Room Moe Episode: "Tricks"
2004 Two And A Half Men Himself Season 2 Episode 1
2006–2010 Big Love Roman Grant 37 episodes
2017 Twin Peaks Carl Rodd 5 episodes

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ The first Harry Dean Stanton Fest was three days of film screenings including Paris, Texas, Repo Man, Cool Hand Luke, and the premiere of a PBS documentary by director Tom Thurman entitled Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland.[3] All screenings were held at the historic Kentucky Theater. Hunter Carson, Stanton's co-star in Paris, Texas, attended the festival and conducted a Q&A following the film.[15][16] The second annual Harry Dean Stanton Fest was held over a weekend in May 2012 at the Kentucky Theater and other venues in downtown Lexington. Festival co-producer Lucy Jones[17] visited with Stanton in California and brought back a filmed greeting for the festival, with introductions to the films and talk about films he was working on. The May 2013 Stanton festival in Lexington included an appearance by Crispin Glover, a co-star with Stanton in Wild at Heart, the 1989 comedy Twister and the Lynch-directed HBO original series Hotel Room in 1993; and a pre-release screening of the documentary Partly Fiction.[18][3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Gates, Anita (September 15, 2017). "Harry Dean Stanton, Character Actor Who Became a Star, Dies at 91". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b c Brammer, Jack (September 15, 2007). "Kentucky-born actor Harry Dean Stanton dies at 91". Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved August 12, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Copley, Rich, "Lexington Film League has a hit in the Harry Dean Stanton Festival", Lexington Herald-Leader, May 17, 2012. Retrieved September 20, 2013.
  4. ^ "Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland". Kentucky Muse. February 15, 2011. Kentucky Educational Television. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
  5. ^ Pulver, Andrew (September 16, 2017). "Harry Dean Stanton, cult American actor, dies aged 91". The Guardian. London.
  6. ^ "Navy Muster Roll for USS LST-970". www.fold3.com. November 1945.
  7. ^ a b Valby, Karen (May 26, 2006). "Harry Dean Stanton is wild at heart". Entertainment Weekly. ISSN 1049-0434.
  8. ^ a b c "Harry Dean Stanton, 'Big Love,' 'Twin Peaks' Star, Dies at 91". Variety. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c Oney, Steve (November 16, 1986). "A Character Actor Reaches Cult Status". The New York Times Magazine. p. 52.
  10. ^ "Overview for Harry Dean Stanton". Turner Classic Movies. July 14, 1926. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 3, 1989). "Dream a Little Dream". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on September 10, 2012. Retrieved October 5, 2007.
  12. ^ a b c Sokol, Tony. "Harry Dean Stanton dies at 91". Den of Geek. Retrieved September 16, 2017.
  13. ^ Iasimone, Ashley (September 15, 2017). "Harry Dean Stanton's Best Musical Moments: From 'Cool Hand Luke' to a Telethon With Bob Dylan". Billboard. Retrieved August 12, 2018.
  14. ^ Hughes, Rob (October 13, 2010). "Muchael Been Obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved August 12, 2018.
  15. ^ "Past Events: 2011". Lexington Film League. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  16. ^ "Harry Dean Stanton documentary to premiere at Kentucky Theatre | Neighbors". Lexington Herald-Leader. January 26, 2011. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  17. ^ "Co-Producers". Lexington Film League. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved July 13, 2014.
  18. ^ Hannon, Blake (May 26, 2013). "Actor Crispin Glover to be guest speaker at Harry Dean Stanton festival". Lexington Herald-Leader.
  19. ^ a b Rottenberg, Josh (September 15, 2017). "Harry Dean Stanton, character actor in 'Twin Peaks,' 'Big Love' and 'Cool Hand Luke,' dies at 91". Los Angeles Times.
  20. ^ Harry Dean Stanton Knew ‘Lucky’ Would Be the Last Film He Made Before Dying, Claims Longtime Friend: ‘He Was Really Scared’
  21. ^ Atkins, Joseph B. (2020). Harry Dean Stanton: Hollywood's Zen Rebel. University Press of Kentucky. p. 1. doi:10.2307/j.ctv161f3jt. ISBN 978-0813180106.
  22. ^ Bergan, Ronald (September 16, 2017). "Harry Dean Stanton obituary". The Guardian. London.
  23. ^ "Carll tells it like it is – April 2019". www.countrystandardtime.com.
  24. ^ McNabb, Ian (January 17, 2021). "Utopian Track Breakdown: 2) Harry Dean Stanton". Ian McNabb. Retrieved January 26, 2022.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae "Harry Dean Stanton". BFI. Archived from the original on February 19, 2016. Retrieved September 16, 2017.

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