Harry Dean Stanton, the actor with a gaunt, bedraggled look who labored in virtual obscurity for decades until a series of roles increased his visibility, including his breakthrough in Wim Wenders' "Paris, Texas," died of natural causes Friday in Los Angeles. He was 91.
The actor was also known for his roles in "Twin Peaks," "Big Love," "Pretty in Pink" and "Repo Man."
He had a high-profile role as manipulative cult leader Roman Grant on HBO polygamy drama "Big Love," which ran from 2006-11, and recently appeared as Carl Rodd in the "Twin Peaks" revival on Showtime.
Stanton had a good year in 1984, when he turned 58, not only starring in the Wenders pic — his first ever as leading man — but in Alex Cox's popular cult film "Repo Man." (That year he also had a small role in John Milius' "Red Dawn," shouting "Avenge me! Avenge me!" to his sons, played by Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze, after being captured by Soviet troops invading America.)
Harry Dean Stanton throughout his life
Harry Dean Stanton throughout his life
American actor Harry Dean Stanton, circa 1970. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
CIRCA 1974: Jan Smithers marries Harry Dean Stanton in a scene from the United Artist movie 'Where the Lilies Bloom' circa 1974. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A promotional group portrait for 'The Missouri Breaks', directed by Arthur Penn, 1976. Standing, left to right: Frederic Forrest, John P. Ryan (1936 - 2007) and Harry Dean Stanton. Seated: Jack Nicholson (left) and Randy Quaid. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
1980: American actor Harry Dean Stanton sits on the edge of a bed, playing his acoustic guitar and singing at his home. Stanton leads a band which plays regularly during breaks between his acting roles. (Photo by Jack Carroll/Fotos International/Getty Images)
Harry Dean Stanton and guest (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY - DECEMBER 4: Harry Dean Stanton attends the premiere party for 'Fool For Love' on December 4, 1985 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 29: Harry Dean Stanton attends the premiere of 'Pretty In Pink' on January 29, 1986 at Mann Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
CULVER CITY, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Harry Dean Stanton attends the screening of 'The Naked Cage' on February 22, 1986 at the Cannon Theater in Culver City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 14: Harry Dean Stanton attends Fifth Annual Chiam To Life Benefit Telethon on September 14, 1986 at KHJ-TV Studios in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Jack Nicholson and Harry Dean Stanton during Memorial for John Huston - September 12, 1987 at Director's Guild in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - FEBRUARY 24: Harry Dean Stanton attends Roy Orbison Tribute on February 24, 1990 at the Universal Ampitheater in Universal City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
CENTURY CITY, CA - SEPTEMBER 19: Harry Dean Stanton attends the premiere of 'The Indian Runner' on September 19, 1991 at the AMC Theater in Century City, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
Harry.2.Rd.7ï¿½31ï¿½97 Los Angeles: Well known character actor Harry Dean Stanton talks and plays some guitar in his home. Photo: RICHARD DERK LAT. (Photo by Richard Derk/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
12/6/97- Westwood,CA- Jack Nicholson with HArry Dean Stanton at the Premiere of 'As Good As It Gets'
Gary Busey & Harry Dean Stanton during 'The Mighty' Los Angeles Premiere at Cineplex Odeon Century Plaza Cinema in Century City, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Rebecca De Mornay and Harry Dean Stanton during 'Identity' Premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Harry Dean Stanton and Faye Dunaway during '21 Grams' Los Angeles Premiere at Academy Theatre in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 26: Actors Jack Nicholson (L) and Harry Dean Stanton attend the game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 26, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
Harry Dean Stanton during 'Two for the Money' World Premiere Co-Presented By Bodog.com - Red Carpet at Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Kate Hudson, Harry Dean Stanton and Owen Wilson during 'You, Me, and Dupree' World Premiere - Red Carpet at Archlight in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD - NOVEMBER 03: Actor Harry Dean Stanton of the film 'Inland Empire' poses in the portrait studio at the 2006 AFI FEST presented by Audi at the Arclight Hollywood November 3, 2006 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images for AFI)
Daveigh Chase amd Harry Dean Stanton during 'Big Love' Season Two Premiere - Red Carpet at Arclight Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc for HBO LA)
Harry Dean Stanton during Dimension Films presents the World Premiere of '1408' at The National Lindbrook Theatre in Westwood, California, United States. (Photo by E. Charbonneau/WireImage)
Actor Harry Dean Stanton arrives at a special screening of DreamWorks Pictures' 'Sweeney Todd' at the Paramount Theater on December 5, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/FilmMagic)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 4: Harry Dean Stanton attends Evening Celebration for La Vie en Rose Actress Marion Cotillard at Chateau Marmont on February 4, 2008 in Hollywood, CA. (Photo by ANDREAS BRANCH/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
ï¿½2009 credit Gamepiks only Actors Jack Nicholson, Harry Dean Stanton, talent agent Sam Gores and Mark Harmon (L-R) sit courtside as they attend the Los Angeles Lakers/Phoenix Suns NBA game at Staples Center in Los Angeles on December 6, 2009. The Lakers defeated the Suns 108-88. XYZ (Photo by Philip Ramey/Corbis via Getty Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 14: Actors Johnny Depp (L) and Harry Dean Stanton arrive at Paramount Pictures' Los Angeles Premiere of 'Rango' held at Regency Village Theatre on February 14, 2011 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 03: Rebecca Yeldham, Howard Deutch, Jon Cryer and Harry Dean Stanton at The 2011 Los Angeles Film Festival Advance Screening of 'Pretty in Pink' held at Nokia Plaza L.A. LIVE on May 3, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/WireImage for Film Independent)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 16: Actor Harry Dean Stanton(L) and directorSophie Huber arrives at the 'Harry Dean Stanton' premiere during the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival at American Airlines Theater on June 16, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 01: Actor Harry Dean Stanton attends Dan Tana's 50th Anniversary Party at Dan Tana's Restaurant on October 1, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - February 23: Actor Harry Dean Stanton stands outside of his home on February 23, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Giles Clarke/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 23: (L-R) Harry Dean Stanton; Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Depp attend Vidiots Foundation Presents The Harry Dean Stanton Award at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on October 23, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 23: (L-R) Johnny Depp, Kris Kristofferson and Harry Dean Stanton attend Vidiots Foundation Presents The Harry Dean Stanton Award at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on October 23, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 23: Harry Dean Stanton attends Vidiots Foundation Presents The Harry Dean Stanton Award at The Theatre at Ace Hotel on October 23, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)
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In 1986, Stanton hit the mainstream when he played Molly Ringwald's unemployed father in "Pretty in Pink." Even here, however, his character was still more than a little dazed: When wakened by his daughter, his first words are "Where am I?"
Stanton played a fiery Paul/Saul in Martin Scorsese's controversial 1988 effort "The Last Temptation of Christ," but the actor was among those in the film criticized by many as miscast. Later film roles included a pair of David Lynch films in the early 1990s, "Wild at Heart" and "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me"; Bob Rafelson's "Man Trouble," with Nicholson; "The Mighty," with Gena Rowlands and Sharon Stone; "The Green Mile"; Sean Penn's "The Pledge"; Nick Cassavetes' "Alpha Dog"; and Lynch's "Inland Empire."
"Paris, Texas," penned by Sam Shepard, was the darling of the Cannes Film Festival, capturing not only the Palme d'Or but other juried awards as well. Stanton played Travis, who reconnects, after a fashion, with his brother, played by Dean Stockwell, after being lost for four years. Stanton's performance in the film was not so much powerful as it was intriguingly, sometimes hauntingly, absent.
Roger Ebert said, "Stanton has long inhabited the darker corners of American noir, with his lean face and hungry eyes, and here he creates a sad poetry."
In the cheerfully bizarre "Repo Man," he played the boozy repo-biz veteran who takes young punk Emilio Estevez under his wing but provides at-best nebulous guidance: "A repo man's life is always intense," or "The more you drive, the less intelligent you get."
Stanton was close friends with Jack Nicholson — Stanton 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 1965 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.
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In the early '70s Stanton appeared in films including "Kelly's Heroes" and "Two Lane Blacktop"; he also had a small role in "The Godfather: Part II."
On the shoot for 1976's "The Missouri Breaks," starring Marlon Brando and Nicholson, Stanton made a long-term friend in Brando when he courageously dissuaded the increasingly eccentric actor from making a foolish choice in his performance.
The actor played one of the doomed crewmen in Ridley Scott's "Alien" and a crooked preacher in John Huston's "Wise Blood," and he had a fairly significant role in John Carpenter's "Escape From New York" as Brain, who keeps the machines running in the ruined high-security prison Manhattan has become.
In 1983, playwright Sam Shepard got to talking with Stanton at a bar in Sante Fe, N.M., and later offered him the lead role in "Paris, Texas." "I was telling him I was sick of the roles I was playing," Stanton told the New York Times. "I told him I wanted to play something of some beauty or sensitivity. I had no inkling he was considering me for the lead in his movie." He also worked with Shepard in the 1985 "Fool for Love."
In a 2011 review of Paolo Sorrentino's "This Must Be the Place," Variety said, "Like all great directors who make a road movie, Sorrentino captures the physical location as well as the inner transformation, and in keeping with the genre, he also knows Harry Dean Stanton has to be included."
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.
Stanton was born in West Irvine, Ky. After serving in the Navy during WWII, he attended the U. of Kentucky, studying journalism and radio and performing in "Pygmalion," then pursued an interest in acting by heading to California to study at the Pasadena Playhouse.
He made his smallscreen debut in 1954 in an episode of the NBC show "Inner Sanctum." In another early TV role, he was directed by Alfred Hitchcock in an episode of "Suspicion" called "Four O'Clock." (The actor was credited as Dean Stanton in most of his early roles to avoid confusion with the actor Harry Stanton, who died in 1978.)
On the bigscreen, 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.
He never married, though he has said he has "one or two children."