With a career spanning over 60 years, you may know Harry Dean Stanton from any one of his 195 acting credits, according to IMDB, in both film and television. At age 89, Harry Dean Stanton still continues to act and is set to star in a short film that will be out later this year.

Younger audiences will remember Stanton from a short but memorable cameo in the 2012 smash hit Marvel movie The Avengers, playing an elderly security guard. While older audiences will remember his work in such classic TV shows as The Untouchables, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bonanza, Gunsmoke and Rawhide, to name only a few. However, it wasn’t until the late 1970’s that Harry Dean Stanton’s career really took off and while he still may not be a household name for many, Harry Dean Stanton has been in so many films and TV shows that it’s hard to miss to his naturalistic acting performances, unique look and charismatic presence on screen.

Background:

Harry Dean Stanton was born on July 14th, 1926 in the small town of Irvine, Kentucky and was first a singer before he decided to become an actor. During World War II, Stanton served in the U.S. Navy as a cook aboard a Landing Ship Tank and saw some action during the Battle of Okinawa. After the war, he moved to southern California and began to study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. After years of minor television roles, Stanton’s first major film role came uncredited in the highly underrated 1959 war movie Pork Shop Hill staring Gregory Peck, which was produced by Peck as well as United Artists.

Mainstream Success:

Although Stanton did appear in the high successful Godfather Part II back in 1974, it wouldn’t be until 1979, well over 20 years into his acting career, that Harry Dean Stanton would land his name into pop culture history. That of course was his small but memorable role in the 1979 sci-fi horror masterpiece, Alien directed by Ridley Scott. Playing the ship’s mechanic Brett, Stanton has the honour of being the first person killed by a fully formed Xenomorph in the entire Alien franchise. While actor John Hurt, who played Kane, was killed before Brett, it was due to a chestbuster that wasn’t fully formed yet. Brett’s death was also the first time we as the audience got a chance to see a fully formed Xenomorph and it’s pretty terrifying. Check out a clip of Brett’s demise in the link below.

 

Further Mainstream Success:

After the release of Alien, Harry Dean Stanton went onto play some very memorable roles throughout the 1980’s. Here are a few of my personal favourites from the 1980’s, which was the height of Stanton’s career and popularly.

1) Escape From New York (1981). Character: Harold “Brain” Helman. Stanton played a memorable role as an inmate trying to help Snake Pliskin (Kurt Russell’s character) find the President of the United States in a future where the island of Manhattan has turned into a prision. Here’s a famous clip from the movie called Under Siege on Broadway.

 

2) Paris, Texas (1984). Character: Travis Henderson. One of Stanton’s few leading roles and a movie that’s he in for nearly every scene, this masterpiece was directed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders and was shot in just five weeks. It also ended up winning the prestigious Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. For more of my opinion on this film, please check out my post on this blog called Why Paris, Texas is an Overlooked Masterpiece. Here’s a clip of the opening scene from Paris, Texas. Note the masterful cinematography and incredible score.

 

3) Red Dawn (1984). Character: Tom Eckert. As the father to Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen’s characters, Stanton played a small but memorable role in this movie which depicts a Soviet invasion of the USA during the height of the Cold War. Here’s a clip of Harry Dean Stanton’s most memorable line, setting much of the motivation of the film forward.

 

4) Repo Man (1984). Character: Bud. 1984 turned out to be one hell of a year for Harry Dean Stanton as the final of three movies that he stared in, which all turned out to be great movies, was another film I wrote about for this blog in a post entitled Why Repo Man is a Masterpiece. My reasoning? Repo Man is an irreverent, original sci-fi movie that is also a love letter to early 1980’s hardcore punk and the city of Los Angeles. In this movie, Harry Dean plays Bud, the owner of a Repossession business that lead Emilio Estevez begins to work at. He then becomes a mentor to Emilio’s character Otto, takes him under his wing and shows him the ropes. Here’s a great scene from the film, and one of my favourites, about the repo code.

 

5) Pretty in Pink (1986). Character: Jack Walsh. While it might be a little mellow dramatic for some, Pretty in Pink was a very popular film from the mid-1980’s staring Molly Ringwald and written by John Hughes. A more serious film than most of John Hughes’ 80’s teen movies, Stanton plays Jack, the unemployed father of Molly Ringwald’s character Andie. The clip below is entitled Andie Confronts Her Father and shows the range of dramatic elements put forth by both Stanton and Ringwald.

 

After The 80’s:

Harry Dean Stanton continued to work throughout the 1990’s and appeared in movies such as David Lynch’s Wild By Heart and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me as well as Never Talk To Strangers, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Green Mile. During the 2000s, Stanton appeared in The Pledge, Anger Management, Inland Empire, Alpha Dog and would go onto become a series regular in HBO’s Big Love playing the Elder of a fundamentalist Mormon group. Since 2010, Stanton has played small roles in the aforementioned The Avengers as well as Seven Psychopaths.

Conclusion:

This year, Harry Dean Stanton will turn 90 years young and at no signs of slowing down or retiring from acting I personally cannot wait to see what he does next. In every single movie that Harry Dean Stanton appears, he stands out and is certain ONE OF MY FAVOURITE ACTORS OF ALL TIME. Also, with the amount of memorable roles that have affected pop culture in many seminal ways, makes me strongly believe that HE’S THE GREATEST LIVING CHARACTER ACTOR and his work will be known for many years to come.

His name was even mentioned in this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominated The Big Short. How about that for a pop culture impact?