Last week we lost Harry Dean Stanton. Stanton was one of those character actors who never played the dashing leading hero or achieved cinema sweetheart status. But Stanton’s body of work over about a half century of acting gathered together the kind of gravitas that swirls around true artists of the screen, and it’s a kind of poetic coincidence that Stanton takes his leave so shortly after Sam Shepard, the screenwriter of Stanton’s masterpiece, also exited this stage. Here’s the actor talking about Paris, Texas in an interview in The Guardian from back in 2013…
There is indeed a peculiar kind of sadness about Harry Dean Stanton, a mix of vulnerability, honesty and seeming guilelessness that has lit up the screen in his greatest performances. It’s there in his singing cameo in 1967′s prison movie Cool Hand Luke, in his leading role in Alex Cox’s underrated cult classic Repo Man in 1984 and, most unforgettably, in his almost silent portrayal of Travis, a man broken by unrequited love in Wim Wenders’s classic, Paris, Texas. “After all these years, I finally got the part I wanted to play,” Stanton once said of that late breakthrough role. “If I never did another film after Paris, Texas I’d be happy.”
Now, with mortality beckoning, Stanton still gives off the air of someone who, as he puts it, “doesn’t really give a damn”. In his room in a hip hotel on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the aircon is on full blast despite his runny nose and troubling cough, and he smokes like a train as if oblivious to the law and the health police. He looks scarecrow thin, but dapper, in his western suit, embroidered shirt and ornately embossed cowboy boots: a southern dandy even in old age. His hearing is not so good, but his voice remains unmistakable, that soft trace of his southern upbringing in rural Kentucky still detectable. “I’ve worked with some of the best of them,” he says. “Not just directors like Sam Peckinpah and David Lynch, but writers like Sam Shepard and singers like Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. I could have made it as a singer, but I went with acting, surrendered to it, in a way.”
Here’s Stanton as a youngster in the cult classic 92 in the Shade (1975)….