Remembering 'Alien,' 'Twin Peaks' actor Harry Dean Stanton

Commentary: The famous character actor, a true original, died Friday at age 91, and he's already dearly missed.

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Bonnie Burton
Journalist Bonnie Burton writes about movies, TV shows, comics, science and robots. She is the author of the books Live or Die: Survival Hacks, Wizarding World: Movie Magic Amazing Artifacts, The Star Wars Craft Book, Girls Against Girls, Draw Star Wars, Planets in Peril and more! E-mail Bonnie.
Bonnie Burton
3 min read

There aren't a lot of actors whose performances can make me cry and laugh in the same film. But Harry Dean Stanton is one of them. Sadly, the beloved actor has left us forever, dying from natural causes at the age of 91 on Friday. 

Stanton played countless characters since his 1954 debut in the TV show "Inner Sanctum," but I first came across him when he played the doomed engineering technician Brett in the 1979 sci-fi horror film "Alien." His character was both hilarious and heartbreaking. 

Stanton's performance in "Alien" convinced me that if I were trapped on a spaceship fighting deadly creatures, I'd want him in my corner -- even if he was constantly complaining about the low pay, poor working conditions and my curious cat.

I loved seeing Stanton play the impatient, grumpy boss Bud in 1984 film "Repo Man." While everyone else was watching the movie's main star Emilio Estevez, my eyes were glued on Stanton, who stole every scene he was in. 


Harry Dean Stanton plays the kind of boss most of us would steer clear from in "Repo Man." 

Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET

Stanton had a special way of making his characters the most memorable people in everything he was in. In "The Green Mile" from 1999, he played the talkative inmate Toot-Toot who could make even the most stoic prison guards laugh.

In the 1981 sci-fi film "Escape from New York," when Stanton played Snake's double-crossing buddy Harold "Brain" Hellman, you still couldn't help but root for him a little.

While watching Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer get their young hearts broken in "Pretty in Pink," it was actually Stanton's role as Ringwald's sad, washed-up, alcoholic father who made me cry the hardest. Stanton brought an adult dose of reality to the classic 1986 teen rom-com.

Heck, Stanton even made me sit up and notice when he played a bit part in "The Avengers" (2012) as a concerned security guard coming to the aid of a very confused Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who was lost after one of his many Hulk benders.

But perhaps Stanton's most interesting roles are those in filmmaker David Lynch's bizarre cinematic worlds. 

As the Fat Trout Trailer Park owner Carl Rodd in Lynch's latest "Twin Peaks: The Return" TV series and earlier in the 1992 prequel film "Twin Peaks: A Fire Walk With Me," Stanton was at his best. The ragged, no-nonsense, guitar-strumming character Stanton played offered a bit of down-to-earth wisdom to a series known for its surreal situations. 


Harry Dean Stanton plays the trailer park owner Carl Rodd in "Twin Peaks: The Return."


My favorite quote from Stanton as Carl was in "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" when he said, "Goddamn, these people are confusing." That pretty much sums up "Twin Peaks" right there. 

In addition to the "Twin Peaks" saga, Stanton starred in Lynch's other films -- "The Cowboy and the Frenchman" (1988), "Wild at Heart" (1990), "The Straight Story" (1999) and "Inland Empire" (2006). Lynch and Stanton had an obvious mutual respect and it benefited us all. 

"There went a great one," Lynch wrote in a statement on Friday.  "There's nobody like Harry Dean. Everyone loved him. And with good reason. He was a great actor (actually beyond great) -- and a great human being -- so great to be around him! You are really going to be missed Harry Dean! Loads of love to you wherever you are now!"

Stanton was a complete original, and he'll be missed greatly not only by cinephiles like me, but by fans and famous collaborators who he inspired greatly.  like "Pretty in Pink" co-star Jon Cryer, director Edgar Wright, actor Kyle MacLachlan, actor Ed Begley Jr., director Asia Argento and more -- who paid their respects on social media. 

Fans can see Stanton in his last role playing an atheist grappling with his own mortality in the upcoming movie "Lucky," which is scheduled to be released in theaters on Sept. 29.

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