There’s no question which line from Harry Dean Stanton’s long movie career I’ve quoted most often over the last few decades. He said it in Alex Cox’s black comedy “Repo Man” in 1984, looking across a parking lot and pointing to a group of laughing young men. “Ordinary f—ing people,” he said. “I hate ‘em.”
But when I think of Stanton, who died this week at the age of 91, I’ll think first of another, longer speech. It started, “I knew these people. These two people,” and then it went on for more than 10 transfixing minutes in Wim Wenders’ wrenching masterpiece “Paris, Texas,” in which Stanton played a taciturn, wounded man struggling to pull himself out of personal wreckage of his own making.
Talking on a phone in a cheap peephouse, with his ex wife Jane (played by Nastassia Kinski) on the other side of one-way glass, he told her their story, as it slowly dawned on her just who the customer on the other end of the phone was. The tale was one of love turned to a ruinous obsession, of a guilt so bottomless that it had driven Stanton’s character to nullify his own existence – and the performance, most of which he delivered with his back to the window through which Kinski was visible, was profoundly quiet and utterly devastating.
“He ran until the sun came up and he couldn’t run any further,” he said, describing his own escape from a burning trailer. “And when the sun went down, he ran again. For five days he ran like this, until every sign of man had disappeared.”
“Paris, Texas” was written by Sam Shepard, another great artist who died recently, and another man who, like, Stanton, embodied a particular strain of American individualism, restlessness and heart. There are a handful of men like this, masters of offhand brilliance who seem most at home on the road and on the move: Stanton, Shepard, Dennis Hopper, Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson among them.
In fact, it was a song of Kristofferson’s, “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33,” that provided the title for Sophie Huber’s 2013 documentary, “Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction.” The film was casual and meandering, and I suppose it was maddening if you wanted answers — but it was completely true to its proudly elusive subject, who lived inside the lines from which Huber got her title:
“He’s a poet, he’s a picker, he’s a prophet, he’s a pusher He’s a pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he’s stoned He’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction Takin’ every wrong direction on his lonely way back home”
Stanton was a ragged poet onscreen in movies from “Cool Hand Luke” to “Alien,” “Pretty in Pink” to “Wild at Heart,” “The Straight Story” to “Straight Time” and yes, “Paris, Texas” to “Repo Man,” a 1984 one-two punch that turned a damn good character actor into something far more than that.
But he never seemed to be working on his career; instead, he went with the flow, did interesting work and then hung out in clubs and played the music he loved. There was nothing smooth or professional about his voice; it was fragile and ragged, a proudly broken instrument that made up in nerve what it lacked in polish, whether he was singing country laments like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” or the Mexican songs he loved like “Volver, Volver.”
But like his acting, it was true. Any time Harry Dean Stanton walked into a room, he was the coolest guy in that room, but that coolness was never for show. It was who he was.
In one scene from “Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction,” Stanton sat with David Lynch, who peppered him with questions that were mostly deflected. At one point, Lynch asked, “How would you like to be remembered?” Stanton’s answer came quickly: “Doesn’t matter.”
So we’ll remember him for some movies, for some music, for his unassailable air of rough-hewn cool, for the modesty and fragility of a great American artist. I’ll remember that astounding “Paris, Texas” monologue. And then I’ll think of “Repo Man,” and I’ll know this: Harry Dean Stanton was no ordinary f—ing person.
Hollywood's Notable Deaths of 2017 (Photos)
A look back at some of the notable people we've lost this year.
The actor, who appeared on "SCTV" and later joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in 1981, died of a heart attack on Jan. 10 at the age of 62.
William Peter Blatty
The author of the famed horror novel "The Exorcist," died from cancer on Jan. 12 at the age of 89.
The actor who starred in the original Broadway production of "Bye Bye Birdie" and played the role of Hymie the Robot on "Get Smart" died on Jan. 13 at the age of 85.
Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka
The WWE legend died from stomach cancer on Jan. 15 at the age of 73. He was inducted into the WWF (now WWE) Hall of Fame in 1996 and was also the first WrestleMania opponent of The Undertaker.
The "NCIS: Los Angeles" star who played the role of Owen Granger died Jan. 19 from cancer at the age of 61.
Lee O'Denat aka "Q"
The founder and CEO of music and culture website WorldStarHipHop, Lee O'Denat, died on Jan. 23 in his sleep at the age of 43, according to TMZ.
Mary Tyler Moore
The legendary six-time Emmy-winning star of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show" died on Jan. 25 at the age of 80.
The American actor, best known for playing a private eye on the long-running CBS action series "Mannix" (1967-75), died on January 26 at age 91.
The actress best known for her role as legal secretary Della Street on the long-running legal drama “Perry Mason,” died Jan. 27 at the age of 94.
According to the Washington Post, Hale died of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The Oscar-nominated British actor whose career spanned six decades and starred in “The Elephant Man,” "Alien" and three "Harry Potter" movies died at the age of 77 on January 27. Hurt had been battling pancreatic cancer since 2015.
Best known for playing Captain Apollo on the 1970s sci-fi television series “Battlestar Galactica,” Hatch died at the age of 71 following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer on Feb. 7.
The senior business correspondent and host of “Bulls and Bears” for the Fox News Channel, Brenda Buttner died on Feb. 20 after a battle with cancer at the age of 55.
The 7-foot, 7-inch Fingleton died Feb. 25 at age 36. He was best known for his role as the giant called Mag the Mighty on "Game of Thrones" and was Europe's tallest man.
The star of "Aliens" and "Titanic" died Feb. 26 due to complications from surgery. He was 61 years old.
Film historian and longtime host on Turner Classic Movies, Robert Osborne died Mar. 6 at the age of 84.
A member of the 1970's musical group, Sister Sledge, known for their single “We Are Family," Sledge died Mar. 10 at 60-years-old.
Felicia O’Dell, better known as Chef Sista Girl or Auntie Fee, was a viral YouTube sensation known for her "good ass chicken" died Mar. 17 after suffering a heart attack. She was 59-years-old.
Chuck Berry, singer and songwriter of rock and roll classics such as “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Johnny B. Goode” died Mar. 18 at the age of 90.
The famed comic book artist known for co-creating the DC comic book monster Swamp Thing died Mar. 19 after a long battle with brain cancer at 68-years-old.
The Pulitzer-winning reporter and columnist whose life was as outsized as the New York City characters he depicted and exposed in print, died Mar. 19 at the age of 88.
He was known for reporting on letters he received from “Son of Sam” serial killer, David Berkowitz in 1977 and exposed one of the city’s worst corruption scandals in the ’80s.
The "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" mom died Mar. 26 peacefully in her sleep at the age of 69.
Legendary stand-up comedian and actor best known as an insult comic, Rickles died Apr. 7 at the age of 90.
The actor and comedian -- the older brother of Eddie Murphy who was best known for his incredibly memorable stints on "Chappelle's Show" -- died April 12 from complications from leukemia.
Best known for playing Ron Howard’s kid sister in the classic 1970s sitcom “Happy Days,” Moran died Apr. 22 at the age of 56.
The Oscar winning director of "The Silence of the Lambs" died Apr. 26 from esophageal cancer at the age of 73.
One of the stars of Disney’s 2004 film “Miracle,” Mantenuto died at the age of 35 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Apr. 24.
The Emmy-winning character actor, who had memorable stints on "Deadwood," "24," and "Nashville," died in his sleep of natural causes at age 68 on May 14.
The longtime producer, who also served as chairman and CEO of Paramount for 12 years, died May 14 of cancer at age 59.
Chris Cornell, the grunge frontman of rock groups Soundgarden and Audioslave, died of a suicide by hanging on May 18, 2017. He was 52.
The former Fox News Chief, who resigned from the company in July after former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit that resulted in multiple women coming forward with similar claims died on May 18 at the age of 77.
According to a family friend who spoke with CNN, Ailes fell at his home in Palm Beach, Florida last week, suffered complications, and slipped into a coma.
The organist and singer for The Allman Brothers, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Gregg Allman died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Savannah, Georgia, at the age of 69, according to his official website. Allman helped create the Southern Rock genre, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
Best known as Caitlin Bree in the 1994 film “Clerks,” Spoonauer died at the age of 44. The film's director, Kevin Smith, reported the news on June 6.
The titular star of TV’s “Batman” from 1966-1968 died after battling leukemia at the age of 88 on June 9.
The star of “Ed Wood,” “North by Northwest” and the ’60s TV series “Mission: Impossible” died July 15 at the age of 89 after experiencing unexpected complications during a short hospitalization.
The famed horror director who invented the modern zombie movie with 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead,” died July 16 at age 77 after a short battle with lung cancer.
Chester Bennington, the frontman of the 2000s rap-rock group Linkin Park, died of suicide by hanging on July 20. He was 41.
The author, playwright and actor, died on July 27 from complications of ALS. He was 73 years old.
The actor, best known for playing Cornelius Fudge in the “Harry Potter” film franchise, died Aug. 3 at the age of 91.
A Broadway star and a beloved cabaret and concert performer, died at the age of 89 from respiratory failure on Aug. 8.
Glen Campbell, the Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, guitarist and variety TV show host, died on August 8. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease late in 2010. Campbell was 81.
The actor, director, playwright, and Oscar-nominated screenwriter died Aug. 13 at the age of 82 after losing his battle with pancreatic cancer.
The famed comedian and civil rights activist died Aug. 19 at the age of 84 from heart failure.
One of Hollywood’s most famous comedians known for being one-half of a legendary comedy duo with Dean Martin, died Aug. 20 at the age of 91.
The Tony Award-winning writer of “Annie,” “Hairspray” and “The Producers,” has died at the age of 88 on Aug. 22
Known for roles on “Cheers” and “Murphy Brown,” Thomas died Aug. 24 at age 69 after a long battle with cancer.
Tobe Hooper, the director of horror classics such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Poltergeist,” died on Aug. 26 at age 74.
Bernard Pomerance, the American playwright and poet who wrote the Tony-winning 1977 play “The Elephant Man,” died Aug. 26 at the age of 74 from complications from cancer at his home in Galisteo, New Mexico.
Coach Rollie Massimino
Longtime Villanova basketball coach Rollie Massimino died Aug. 30 at the age of 82 after battling lung cancer.
Richard Anderson, an actor known for “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman,” died Aug. 31 at age 91.
Stand-up comedian and actor Shelley Berman, known for playing Larry David’s dad on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” died Sep. 1 due to complications from Alzheimer’s Disease at the age of 92.
Walter Becker, co-founding guitarist of the jazz rock band Steely Dan, died Sep. 3 at age 67.
John Ashbery, the acclaimed Pulitzer-winning American poet who challenged readers with musical verses that often defied easy understanding, died Sep. 3 at age 90.
Elizabeth Kemp, actress and famed teacher at the Actors Studio, died Sep. 1 at age 65.
Troy Gentry, one half of Kentucky-based country music duo Montgomery Gentry, has died at the age of 50 after a tragic helicopter crash on Sep. 8.
Blake Heron, the former child actor best known for playing Marty Preston in the 1996 family movie “Shiloh,” has died at the age of 35 on Sep. 8
Michael Friedman, a composer and lyricist whose musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” played on Broadway in 2010, died Sep. 9 at age 41 from complications of HIV/AIDS
Len Wein, died Sep. 10 at age 69 after creating a plethora of comics universe characters including Wolverine and Swamp Thing.
Mike Hodge, an actor who appeared in recurring roles on “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and was the president of SAG-AFTRA’s New York chapter, died Sep. 9 at the age of 70.
Television executive Don Ohlmeyer, who coined the phrase “Must See TV” in the 1990s, died Sep. 10, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” play-by-play man Al Michaels announced during tonight’s telecast. Ohlmeyer was 72.
X Atencio, the legendary animator and imagineer behind classic Disney films such as “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia,” died Sep. 10 at the age of 98.
Mark LaMura, the actor best known for playing Mark Dalton on the late, great ABC soap “All My Children,” died Sep. 11 at the age of 68 after a battle with lung cancer.
Edith Windsor, LGBTQ activist and lead plaintiff in a pivotal Supreme Court marriage-equality case, died Sep. 12 at age 88.
Jessi Zazu, frontwoman for the Nashville-based alt-country band Those Darlins, died on Sep. 12 at age 28 after a battle with cervical cancer.
Frank Vincent, a character actor best known for roles as Italian mafia members, has died at the age of 78 on Sep. 13.
Grant Hart, drummer and singer of the alternative rock band Hüsker Dü, died at 56-years-old on Sep. 13.
Michelle Rounds, Rosie O’Donnell’s ex-wife, died Monday, Sept. 11, at age 46 by apparent suicide.
Harry Dean Stanton
Harry Dean Stanton, who worked in Hollywood for over 60 years, died Sep. 15, at age 91 from natural causes.
Lillian Ross, longtime reporter for The New Yorker, died Sep. 20 at the age of 99.
Bernie Casey, who played national Tri Lams fraternity head U.N. Jefferson in the 1984 comedy “Revenge of the Nerds” and its sequels, died Sep. 19 at 78-years-old.
David Lyle, former head of National Geographic Channels and FremantleMedia North America, died Sep. 21 at 67 after battling cancer.
Acclaimed soul singer Charles Bradley who released his first album at the age of 62, died Sep. 23 at 68 following a long bout with cancer.
Jan Triska, a Czech actor who starred in such Hollywood movies as “Ronin” and “Ragtime,” died Sep. 25 after a fall two days earlier from Prague’s iconic Charles Bridge. He was 80 years old.
Barry Dennen, member of the original cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” died Sep. 24 at age 79 in hospice care in Burbank after suffering a brain injury from a fall in June.
Paul Horner, a writer of “fake news” who claimed to influence the 2016 election with his widely discredited stories, was found dead outside Phoenix on Sep. 18 at the age of 38.
Playboy founder and icon Hugh Hefner died on Sep. 27 at the age of 91 from natural causes.
SI Newhouse Jr.
S.I. Newhouse Jr., who ran the Conde Nast publishing empire that included magazine giants such as Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New Yorker, died Oct. 1 at the age of 89.
The leader singer of the Heartbreakers and a successful solo artist, known for hits like “Free Fallin'” and “Learning to Fly,” died at age 66 on Oct. 2 after being found unconscious in his Malibu home the previous night.
Charles ‘Chuck’ Low
Charles “Chuck” Low, a military vet turned real estate developer turned “Goodfellas” actor, died peacefully in his sleep on Sep. 18 at age 89.
Hervé L Leroux
French fashion designer Hervé L. Leroux, known for his bandage dresses, died Oct. 6 at age 60.
NBA legend Connie “The Hawk” Hawkins, known for being a power forward known for his massive hands, scoop shots and football-like passes, died Oct. 6 at age 75.
Philip Reitnour, who appeared on “Shark Tank” in 2014 to pitch his app EmergenSee, has been found dead in Philadelphia’s Schuylkill river at the age of 58.
John Dunsworth, star of the hit Canadian TV series “Trailer Park Boys,” died Oct. 16 at age 71.
Mychael Knight, a fashion designer who competed on the reality competition series “Project Runway,” died Oct. 17 at age 39.
The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie died Oct. 17 at age 53 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor in May.
Danielle Darrieux, the French actress whose career on screen and stage spanned eight decades and was known for "8 Women," died at the age of 100 on Oct. 19.
Brent Briscoe, a character actor known for roles in David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" and "Mulholland Drive," as well as "The Green Mile" and "Sling Blade," died at age 56 on Oct. 20.
Robert Guillaume, a two-time Emmy winner for his character Benson DuBois on "Soap" and the spinoff "Benson," as well as the voice of Rafiki in "The Lion King," died after a battle with prostate cancer on Oct. 24. He was 89.
Rock and roll legend Fats Domino, known for singles like "Ain't That A Shame," "I'm Walkin" and "Blueberry Hill," died at age 89 on Oct. 24.
"Veronica Mars" actor Brad Bufanda died by suicide on Nov. 3. He was 34.
John Hillerman, the Emmy-winning actor who portrayed Higgins opposite Tom Selleck on "Magnum P.I.," died of natural causes on Nov. 9. He was 84.
Charles Henry Mosley III, a former singer for the band Faith No More, died "due to the disease of addiction" on Nov. 10. He was 57.
Liz Smith, a legendary New York gossip columnist who helped usher in an era of celebrity journalism, died on Nov. 12 at the age of 94.
Gustav Ahr, a rising rap star who performed under the name Lil Peep after releasing his first full album in August, died of a suspected overdose at the age of 21.
Jack Blessing, an actor known for his roles on “Moonlighting,” “The Naked Truth” and “George Lopez,” died following a battle with pancreatic cancer on November 14. He was 66.
Earle Hyman, who played Grandpa Huxtable on "The Cosby Show" in addition to a career on stage as a Shakespearean actor, died Nov. 17 at age 91.
Malcolm Young, one of the founding guitarists of rock band AC/DC, died on Nov. 18 after battling dementia. He was 64.
Country music star Mel Tillis, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, died of suspected respiratory failure on Nov. 19. He was 85.
Charles Manson, the con man, cult leader and criminal who led the Manson Family murders in the '60s, died on Nov. 19. He was 83.
California Department of Corrections
Jana Novotna, a Czech tennis champion who won Wimbledon in 1998, died after a battle with cancer on Nov. 19. She was 49.
Della Reese, a jazz and pop singer who also starred on "Touched by an Angel," died on Nov. 19. She was 86.
Peter Baldwin, an Emmy-winning director of "The Wonder Years," "The Brady Bunch" and "Sanford and Son," died on Nov. 19. He was 86.
David Cassidy, the star of "The Partridge Family" and a teen heartthrob from the '70s, died on Nov. 21 after being placed into a medically-induced coma. He was 67.
Tommy Keene, a power pop singer-songwriter popular in the '80s, died on Nov. 22 at the age of 59.
Rance Howard, an actor who appeared in 15 films directed by his son Ron Howard, died on Nov. 26. He was 89.
Ken Shapiro, a writer and director of Chevy Chase’s debut film from 1974 “The Groove Tube,” died of cancer on Nov. 27. He was 76.
Jim Nabors, who played Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show" and on "Gomer Pyle: USMC," died on Nov. 30. He was 87.
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Heather North, an actress best known for voicing Daphne on the animated series "Scooby-Doo," diec November 30 at age 71.
Charlie Green Jr.
YouTube star Charlie Green Jr., better known as Angry Grandpa, died on Dec. 10 after a battle with skin cancer. He was 67.
Bruce Brown, director of the surfing documentary from 1966 "Endless Summer," died of natural causes on Dec. 10. He was 80.
Bruce Brown Films
Pat DiNizio, lead singer and songwriter of the New Jersey rock band The Smithereens, died on Dec. 12. He was 62.
Bob Givens, a veteran animator who helped design such classic characters as Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, died Dec. 14 at age 99.
Kim Jong-hyun, also known as Jonghyun as part of the K-pop group SHINee, died on Dec. 18 at the age of 27. His death is being investigated as a possible suicide.
Jordan Feldstein, the manager of Maroon 5 and other music stars, died Dec. 23 of an apparent heart attack at age 40. He was also the older brother of actors Jonah Hill and Beanie Feldstein.
William W. Graham
William W. Graham, a scion of the iconic Washington Post publishers Phil and Katharine Graham, died at age 69 as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. News of the suicide was first reported by the Post in an official obituary on Dec. 24.
Heather Menzies-Urich, the actress best known for playing the second-oldest Von Trapp daughter Louisa in the Oscar-winning musical film “The Sound of Music,” died Dec. 24 at age 68.
Kent Damon, father to actor Matt Damon, died of cancer on Dec. 23. He was 74.
Kent Damon, left, and Matt Damon in 2010 (Bryce Vickmark/Getty Images)
Alfie Curtis, an actor known for appearing in the original "Star Wars" and the 1980 film "The Elephant Man," died on Dec. 26. His cause of death is not yet known. He was 87.
Veteran Atlanta morning news anchor of CBS46 Amanda Davis died of a stroke on Dec. 27. She was 62.
Rose Marie, an actress known for her roles in "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Doris Day Show," as well as in appearances on "Hollywood Squares," died on Dec. 28. She was 94.
Sue Grafton, the mystery novelist best known for an alphabet-titled series of novels beginning with “A Is for Alibi,” died in her Santa Barbara home at age 77.
Daniel Talbot, the indie film icon whose New Yorker Films handled the U.S. release of classics from Bertolucci, Godard, Louis Malle and Errol Morris, died on December 29. He was in his early 90s.
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A look back at the stars of movies, TV, media and music we lost this year
A look back at some of the notable people we've lost this year.