Harry Dean Stanton

Harry Dean Stanton Biography.com

Film Actor, Actor, Television Actor(1926–)
Over 60-plus years in Hollywood, American actor Harry Dean Stanton has earned acclaim for performances in such films as 'Repo Man' and 'Paris, Texas,' as well as on the HBO drama 'Big Love.'


Born in 1926 in Kentucky, actor Harry Dean Stanton began appearing on TV programs like Gunsmoke in the 1950s. He quietly built a reputation as a quality character actor in films like Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Alien (1979), and earned praise for his headlining roles in the 1984 flicks Repo Man and Paris, Texas. Among his recent work, the longtime actor was prominently featured on the HBO drama Big Love from 2006 to 2010, and voiced a character in the animated hit Rango (2011).

Early Years

Harry Dean Stanton was born on July 14, 1926, in West Irvine, Kentucky. The oldest son of a tobacco farmer and a hairdresser, he attended Lafayette High School in Lexington, Kentucky, before joining the U.S. Navy, his service carrying him to the Pacific theater as a ship's cook during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa.

Following the war, Stanton enrolled at the University of Kentucky, where he tried multiple majors before catching the acting bug. He subsequently dropped out of school to move to Hollywood, beginning his pursuit of an acting career at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1949. 

TV and Film Success 

Harry Dean Stanton initially made a living as a singer, his voice taking him across the country with a touring 24-piece choral group. Eventually he worked his way onto television, nabbing parts on such programs as Gunsmoke and Rawhide. The film offers gradually followed, and Stanton appeared in multiple flicks with his good friend and housemate Jack Nicholson, including Monte Hellman's Ride in the Whirlwind (1966). 

One of Stanton's earliest acclaimed performances came in Cool Hand Luke (1967), in which he showed off his vocal abilities as a singing prisoner. In the following years, he quietly built an impressive resume while working for some of the industry's top directors: In addition to rejoining Hellman for Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and The Cockfighter (1974), he appeared in Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather II (1974), Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) and John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981). 

Brief Leading Man 

In 1984, Harry Dean Stanton delivered one of the signature performances of his career in Repo Man, but he earned his greatest acclaim for his headlining role in Wim Wenders's Paris, Texas. Silent for most of the feature, Stanton shined as a man seeking to reunite with his estranged family, his performance accentuated by his hangdog, haunted countenance. Paris, Texas won multiple awards at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival and was soundly praised by critics. 

Stanton's moment as a leading man seemingly came and went with Paris, Texas, but he continued to work with Hollywood's top directing talent: Along with a memorable role in John Hughes's Pretty in Pink (1986), he appeared in Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and several David Lynch features, including Wild at Heart (1990) and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992). 

Later Roles and Recognition 

Harry Dean Stanton continued to work steadily as he passed his 70th birthday, making his presence felt in such films as The Green Mile (1999) and TV programs like Two and a Half Men. In 2006, he landed one of his most acclaimed roles in years, as polygamist sect leader Roman Grant on the HBO drama Big Love. After his run on the show ended in 2010, he voiced the character of Balthazar the mole in the animated feature Rango (2011), and played a security guard in the superhero blockbuster The Avengers (2012) 

Long respected within the industry, Stanton began receiving recognition for his extensive list of credits late in life. Since 2011, the Kentucky-born actor has been celebrated by hometown fans with the annual Harry Dean Stanton Fest in Lexington. In 2013, he was profiled in the documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, with Kris Kristofferson and Debbie Harry among the famous faces singing his praises. 

Not ready to retire and bask in the attention, Stanton continued working at his craft. He made several appearances in the HBO comedy Getting On, and signed on to appear in the revival of Twin Peaks, slated for a 2017 return to the small screen. 

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