Kentucky-born actor Harry Dean Stanton, whose eclectic film career spurred Lexington in 2011 to host an annual festival in his honor, died Friday of natural causes at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, The Associated Press reported. He was 91.
Stanton’s last movie, “Lucky,” about the spiritual journey of a 90-year-old atheist, is to have a red carpet premiere Sept. 28 at the Kentucky Theater at this year’s Harry Dean Stanton Festival, said Fred Mills, manager of the theater.
“He played particular roles and was a natural in them,” said Mills, who recalled how feeble Stanton was when he appeared at the Lexington festival in 2014 with actress Michelle Phillips.
Stanton was known for his quirky characterizations in an acting career that dated to the mid-1950s.
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He has been a cult favorite since the 1970s with roles in “Cockfighter,” “Two-Lane Blacktop” and “Cisco Pike,” and 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 TV shows including “Laverne & Shirley,” “Adam-12” and “Gunsmoke.” He had a cameo on “Two and a Half Men,” which featured “Pretty in Pink” star Jon Cryer, and appeared in the movies “The Avengers,” “The Last Stand” and “Cool Hand Luke.”
Besides reminding people of Stanton’s diverse film work, the Lexington festival played up his Lexington roots.
A lifelong bachelor, Stanton was born July 14, 1926, in Irvine. His father, Sheridan Harry Stanton, was a tobacco farmer and a barber. His mother, Ersel Moberly, was a hairdresser. The couple divorced when Stanton was in high school, and both later remarried.
Stanton attended Lafayette High School in Lexington and the University of Kentucky, where he performed at the Guignol Theatre and studied journalism and radio arts.
“I could have been a writer,” he told an interviewer for a 2011 documentary, “Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland,” in which he sings and plays the harmonica.
“I had to decide if I wanted to be a singer or an actor. I was always singing. I thought if I could be an actor, I could do all of it.”
He later studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, Calif. He also was in the U.S. Navy in World War II, serving as a cook aboard a ship during the Battle of Okinawa.
Stanton was a favorite of the late film critic Roger Ebert, who said that “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.” However, Ebert later admitted that “Dream a Little Dream” in 1989, in which Stanton appeared, was a “clear violation” of this rule.
There was no immediate word about funeral arrangements.