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Kentucky native Harry Dean Stanton dies at age 91 in Los Angeles; most recent film about to be released

One of Kentucky’s favorite sons, Harry Dean Stanton, an actor with wide-ranging skills, has died of natural causes at age 91 at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Stanton whose big breakthrough to fame was Paris, Texas (written by Sam Shepard) was known for his roles in Twin Peaks, Big Love, Repo Man and Pretty in Pink. He had a high profile role as a manipulative cult leader Roman Grant on HBO’s Big Love and recently appeared as Carl Rodd in the Twin Peaks revival on Showtime.

Harry Dean Stanton (Wikipedia)

His most recent film, Lucky, about an atheist who comes to terms with his own mortality is set to be related on Sept. 29.

Stanton was born in Irvine, the son of Sheridan Harry Stanton, a tobacco farmer and barber, and Ersel (née Moberly), a cook. His parents divorced when Stanton was in high school and both later remarried. His family had a musical background.

Stanton attended Lafayette High School and the University of Kentucky where he performed at the Guignol Theatre under the direction of British theater director Wallace Briggs 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.

“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.”

He left 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.

Stanton was a United States Navy veteran of World War II, serving as a cook aboard the Landing Ship Tank USS LST-970 during the Battle of Okinawa.

Stanton and his friend, Jack Nicholson

Variety reports that in 1986, Stanton hit the mainstream when he played Molly Ringwald’s unemployed father in “Pretty in Pink.”

Stanton was close friends with Jack Nicholson — he was best man at Nicholson’s 1962 wedding, and they lived together for more than two years after Nicholson’s divorce — and the character actor’s first step in emerging from obscurity was a part written by Nicholson for him in the 1966 Western “Ride the Whirlwind.” Stanton played the leader of an outlaw gang; Nicholson told him to “let the wardrobe do the acting and just play yourself.”

“After Jack said that, my whole approach to acting opened up,” Stanton told Entertainment Weekly.

Stanton did voice work for the Johnny Depp animated film “Rango” in 2011. In a 2010 episode of NBC’s “Chuck,” Stanton reprised his “Repo Man” character.

On the big screen, Stanton’s earliest, mostly uncredited work was in Westerns and war pics, debuting in 1957’s “Tomahawk Trail” and appearing in 1959 Gregory Peck-starrer “Pork Chop Hill.” (He also guested on many TV Westerns, including “The Rifleman,” “Have Gun — Will Travel,” “Bonanza,” and “Gunsmoke”).

Stanton also led his own band, first known as Harry Dean Stanton and the Repo Men and later simply as the Harry Dean Stanton Band, and would play pickup gigs in L.A. area clubs. Bob Dylan, with whom he worked on Sam Peckinpah’s 1973 film “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” was a friend. Another friend was Hunter S. Thompson, and Stanton sang at his funeral.

The character actor was the subject of two documentaries: 2011’s “Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland” and Sophie Huber’s 2013 “Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction,” which featured interviews with Wenders, Shepard, Kris Kristofferson, and Lynch.

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