Goodbye, Harry Dean

Article by Sarah Walker

On September 15, America lost one of its coolest men, Harry Dean Stanton.

There’s so much we loved about Stanton, the Kentucky-born World War II veteran who discovered his love of acting in a college drama class. A notorious lone wolf on-screen and off, Stanton seemed to be everywhere all the time, appearing in more than 200 films and TV shows in his 60-year career. Yet somehow, we never got tired of him.

“Play yourself” was the advice Jack Nicholson gave Stanton when he wrote a part for him in the 1966 outlaw film Ride the Whirlwind, and that’s exactly what he did — for the rest of his career. Stanton’s naturalistic technique made him the perfect fit for all his roles, and that’s saying a lot. Here’s a look back at some of our favorites.

— Straight Time (1978)
Though one of his lesser-known features, it’s a must-see for film nerds and lovers of 70s cinema. Dustin Hoffman plays Max Dembo, a thief newly released from prison who fails miserably at going straight, so he returns to what he knows best, and brings Jerry (Stanton) in to help. Stanton was an experienced yet still obscure character actor at the time, and beyond cool with his long hair, aviator sunglasses, and sawed-off shotgun.

— Death Watch (1979)
An odd sci-fi melodrama, directed by French auteur Bertrand Tavernier and filmed in Scotland. Stanton plays Vincent Ferriman, a callous reality-TV producer who implants a camera in Harvey Keitel’s eyes so he can surreptitiously film the last days of a terminally ill woman (Romy Schneider). HDS’s everyman persona is a strange match for this slick character whose ethics are severely out of whack, but as with everything Stanton did, it works.

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