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The Inimitable Character Actor

Photo of Harry Dean Stanton signing autographsLegendary actor Harry Dean Stanton has died. Which almost seems impossible since it seemed he’d outlive us all. It feels rather fitting that his film, “Lucky,” will be released later on this month.

His career spans nearly 70s years – and he’s worked with everyone from Sam Peckinpah to John Carpenter and of course, David Lynch.

He had the capacity to command attention, even early on in old, black-and-white episodes of TV westerns that too often didn’t provide enough substance for his talent.

But he always stood out, even opposite Paul Newman in a small, but memorable role in “Cool Hand Luke.”

Yet it seems he was always destined to be a character actor. Which isn’t a bad thing. Most often those performances are the ones that stick with us.

Take for example John Milius’ 1973 film, “Dillinger.” Is it a great film? Probably not. Is it entertaining? Absolutely – and has perhaps one of the greatest “character actor” ensembles ever: Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Geoffrey Lewis and, of course, Harry Dean Stanton.

Again, even in such company Stanton stands out as Homer Van Meter. When Homer has a series of misfortunes that ultimately ends with his undoing, you can’t help but laugh at Stanton’s reaction.

Of course, he made other films – “Alien,” “Repo Man,” “Pretty In Pink,” and “Red Dawn,” (who can forget his EPIC, “Avenge me!”). The list goes on and on.

Perhaps his finest role came in 1984 with Wim Wenders’ “Paris, Texas.” Roger Ebert called it a “story of loss upon loss.” I won’t go into it further. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. Become immersed it.

In a year where we’ve lost so many formidable mainstays of film – Powers Boothe, Michael Parks and even Bill Paxton – losing Harry Dean is tough.


Photo of Harry Dean Stanton

“You want people to feel something when you tell a story, whether they feel happy or whether they feel sad.” –Harry Dean Stanton

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