Kentuckian, actor, and musician Harry Dean Stanton passed away this past Friday. He was 91.
Born in West Irvine, Kentucky, in Estill County, Stanton left the family tobacco farm to attend Lafayette High School in Lexington as well as the University of Kentucky. He studied journalism and radio art when he wasn’t performing at the school’s Guignol Theatre, and the theatre’s director was so impressed with Stanton that he encouraged him to leave UK and pursue acting in California.
After a stint in the United States Navy during World War II, Stanton landed his first television role in 1954 and his first feature film role in 1956, an uncredited part as a Department of Corrections employee in a picture called The Wrong Man.
Harry Dean Stanton went on to accrue over a hundred film and television credits, everything from Pretty In Pink to Dwight Yoakam music videos to this year’s Twin Peaks revival.
But it was his brooding, lurking, terse weirdo roles in low-budget indie films that endeared him to young audiences in the 1970s and beyond. Everyone can (and should) take this time to look back through his filmography and find something to savor. If you’re a Kentucky for Kentucky fan, you can’t go wrong with the punk rock/comedy/sci-fi/serious business mashup that is Repo Man.
Here’s what film critic Roger Ebert said about Repo Man when he saw it in 1984:
I saw Repo Man near the end of a busy stretch on the movie beat: Three days during which I saw more relentlessly bad movies than during any comparable period in memory. Most of those bad movies were so cynically constructed out of formula ideas and “commercial” ingredients that watching them was an ordeal. Repo Man comes out of left field, has no big stars, didn’t cost much, takes chances, dares to be unconventional, is funny, and works. There is a lesson here.
We love that.
Stanton plays Bud, the veteran repo man of Repo Man that takes punk loser Otto, played by Emilio Estevez, under his wing and guides him through the dirty business of legalized auto theft.
In one of the more famous scenes, after imparting to Otto the “Repo Code”, Bud catches some squares causing a scene in the distance and mutters a little diatribe that could have easily come from the real-life Harry Dean Stanton.
“Hey, look at them,” Bud says. “Look at those assholes over there. Ordinary fuckin’ people. I hate ‘em. See, an ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations. A repo man spends his life getting into tense situations. Assholes. Let’s go get a drink.”
Here’s the excerpt in its entirety. Fair warning, it’s a NSFW clip because Stanton was a NSFW kind of guy. That’s why we’ll miss him so much.
You can appreciate some of this iconic Kentucky artist’s best work, including the official premiere of his latest film Lucky, in some of Kentucky’s most beautiful theaters this September 28-29 at the 7th Annual Harry Dean Stanton Fest in Lexington.