Remembering Harry Dean Stanton: Minister of Culture

Stanton was always an insider with the cool Hollywood crowd.

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Lately it seems I've been writing sad pieces about people who died too young. Tom Petty and Walter Becker come immediately to mind. But that's not the case with actor Harry Dean Stanton.

Stanton died at 91 on Sept. 15. He had a good, long life and a great, interesting career. He was by no means a Hollywood "star," but he was in 250 movies over his lifetime. And his roles, even when small, were memorable.

He had a bit part as an inmate in the Paul Newman classic "Cool Hand Luke" and as an FBI agent in "The Godfather: Part II," which seems to run around the clock on AMC.

He plays the lead in the new movie "Lucky," which opens in Cleveland at the Cedar Lee Theatre today. It's about a crusty, 90-year-old atheist who lives out West and is enjoying/contemplating the end of his life.

Stanton was always an insider with the cool Hollywood crowd. He was the best man at Jack Nicholson's wedding in 1962. He ran with a gang that included Nicholson, Sean Penn, writer Jim Harrison, Jimmy Buffett, novelist Tom McGuane and painter Russell Chatham, some of whom loved to fly-fish in Livingston, Montana. They were dubbed "The Livingston Mafia."

Stanton's movie career was fun to watch because the smaller the movie, the bigger his role. He played the lead in the 1984 Wim Wenders film "Paris, Texas" and had another large role in the weirdo indie film "Repo Man" that same year.

I was in San Francisco in 1984 when he went there to do publicity for "Repo Man." I picked him up at the airport and served as his chauffeur in my crummy old Toyota as he made his radio/television rounds.

He was a lot of fun. We enjoyed each other's company throughout the publicity tour. Somewhere, early in the morning, a bottle of tequila was introduced to the proceedings. Things got a little squiffy after that.

He confessed to me that he had hoped for an on-set affair with Nastassja Kinski during "Paris,Texas," but that it was not in the cards. It was all fun and games until Stanton threw up in my car.

My first thought was, "I'll never sell this car."

After getting him on his plane back to Los Angeles, I went to the office and wrote my story about my day with Stanton.

A month later, I was home alone in my apartment on a Friday night when the phone rang. It was Stanton. His publicist had sent him my story, and he was ecstatic about it. I have no idea how he got my home number. He thanked me profusely for my clever words and praised my journalistic talent to the skies. We had a genuinely fun conversation.

I've written hundreds of celebrity stories, and Stanton was one of three who called later to say thanks.

So, here's to Harry Dean (that's what his friends called him). Can't wait to see his swan-song film, "Lucky." And I still wish I hadn't sold that car.

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Article Remembering Harry Dean Stanton: Minister of Culture compiled by www.cleveland.com

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