Lexington Mayor Jim Gray broke precedent Sunday night at The Kentucky Theatre.
He has given away keys to the city and declared days for accomplished Kentuckians. But it took a bona fide movie star to get him to do both in one day.
Lafayette High School graduate and former University of Kentucky student Harry Dean Stanton was waiting in the wings as Gray declared it his day and then brought the 87-year-old actor onstage to give him the golden key.
"What does this key open?" Stanton asked in a voice familiar to fans of films such Pretty in Pink (1986), Alien (1979) and his biggest star turn, Paris, Texas (1984). "I've not been involved in this situation in my whole life with this many people and these types of awards. I've met a lot of wonderful people here, Kentucky's got beautiful trees all over the place, and I really don't know what to say."
Singer and actress Michelle Phillips was supposed to be the featured celebrity guest at this year's Harry Dean Stanton Fest. But she trumped herself by telling Stanton he had to come with her to the fourth annual event. She was in the audience for Stanton's big moment, accompanied by cheers from a full house in The Kentucky for a showing of 1973's Dillinger, in which he and Phillips co-starred.
Stanton and Phillips were scheduled to take part in a question-and-answer session after the film and attend a party at The Bar complex to cap off the night.
Festival director Lucy Jones had lobbied Stanton for three years to attend the festival, but he had declined, saying he didn't like to travel anymore.
Stanton said it was Phillips, his friend of nearly five decades, who persuaded him to make his first visit to the festival and his first visit to the Bluegrass State in 14 years.
"I don't fly anymore if I can avoid it," Stanton said, before the screening. Airport "security is a hassle."
Even for Harry Dean Stanton?
"For anyone," he said, in his economic prose.
Stanton said the trip was a good chance to visit with family. His first home, in West Irvine, is still there, he said, although he couldn't remember the last time he visited his hometown.
Before Sunday's screening, Stanton had dinner across Main Street from the theater at Portofino with Phillips and several other Kentuckians with Hollywood connections, including writer and actress Erin Chandler and producer Judi Bennett. Jones and her parents, former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones and Libby Jones, also were there.
Over a bottle of chianti, which Stanton takes in a rocks glass, typically used for bourbon, they joked about favorite bar games and the preponderance of trees and grassy fields in Kentucky as opposed to Los Angeles.
Stanton said he had heard the Lexington festival "has been a big success," though he had no suggestions about what it should program.
Sunday's feature, Dillinger, starred fellow Kentuckian Warren Oates in the title role as notorious gang leader John Dillinger.
"He was a good friend," Stanton said of Oates, who died in 1982. "We were often up for the same parts."
He recalled making the movie as being a lot of fun.
"It's a really good movie," Stanton said. "I'm looking forward to seeing it again tonight."
Just a few hours later, Stanton sat and watched it at the same theater where he used to go to the movies before he ever stepped in front of a camera.