LOS ANGELES — Harry Dean Stanton, the shambling, craggy-face character actor with the deadpan voice who became a cult favorite through his memorable turns in “Paris, Texas,” ”Repo Man” and other films and TV shows, died Friday at age 91.
Stanton died of natural causes at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, his agent, John S. Kelly, said.
Never mistaken for a leading man, Stanton was an unforgettable presence to moviegoers, fellow actors and directors, who recognized that his quirky characterizations could lift even the most ordinary script. Roger Ebert once observed that no movie with Stanton in a supporting role “can be altogether bad.”
He was widely loved around Hollywood, a drinker and smoker with a million stories who palled around with Jack Nicholson and Kris Kristofferson among others and was a hero to such younger stars and brothers-in-partying as Rob Lowe and Emilio Estevez.
Almost always cast as a crook, a codger, an eccentric or a loser, he appeared in more than 200 movies and TV shows in a career dating to the mid-1950s. A cult-favorite since the ’70s with roles in “Cockfighter,” ”Two-Lane Blacktop” and “Cisco Pike,” his more famous credits ranged from the Oscar-winning epic “The Godfather Part II” to the sci-fi classic “Alien” to the teen flick “Pretty in Pink,” in which he played Molly Ringwald’s father. He also guest starred on such TV shows as “Laverne &Shirley,” ”Adam-12” and “Gunsmoke.” While fringe roles and films were a specialty, he also ended up in the work of many of the 20th century’s master auteurs, even Alfred Hitchcock in the director’s serial TV show.
“I worked with the best directors,” Stanton told the AP in a 2013 interview. “Martin Scorsese, John Huston, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock. Alfred Hitchcock was great.”
He said he could have been a director himself but “it was too much work.”
Fitting for a character actor, he only became famous in late middle age. In Wim Wenders’ 1984 rural drama “Paris, Texas,” he earned acclaim for his subtle and affecting portrayal of a man so deeply haunted by something in his past that he abandons his young son and society to wander in the desert.
Wiry and sad, Stanton’s near-wordless performance is laced with moments of humor and poignancy. His heartbreakingly stoic delivery of a monologue of repentance to his wife, played by Nastassja Kinski, through a one-way mirror has become the defining moment in his career, in a role he said was his favorite.