Harry Dean Stanton: Hollywood’s Zen Rebel

In Features by Samuel Love

On September 15th 2017, the great Harry Dean Stanton passed away at the age of 91. In a career that spanned more than six decades, the celebrated character actor appeared in some of the finest films of all time including The Godfather Part II, Alien, The Green Mile and Paris, Texas to name but a few. His final lead role in John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky earned him posthumous critical acclaim, with the film itself considered a personal swansong for the actor as it was written around him and his beliefs on mortality.

But beyond Sophie Huber’s impressionistic docu-portrait Partly Fiction in 2012, Stanton has remained a private and enigmatic figure in Hollywood. No books have ever been written on the actor, and he rarely gave interviews in his later years.

To celebrate the iconic actor’s life and work, The University Press of Kentucky – Kentucky being the state where Stanton was born – have put out a wonderful and much-needed first full biography of the man, as part of their terrific Screen Classics series. Written by Joseph B. Atkins, the 256-page tome unwinds Stanton’s enigmatic persona exploring his early life, Navy service, and the events that inspired him to drop out of college to pursue a career in acting. The passionate book also explores his status as a Hollywood legend, a status that was only cemented when celebrated critic Roger Ebert coined his infamous Stanton/Walsh Rule; “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmet Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad”. 

Drawing on interviews with the celebrated figure’s many friends, family and colleagues, Hollywood’s Zen Rebel offers an unprecedented look at this up until now almost mythical figure of cinema history, and the passion and love that has gone into it is evident throughout. This is a wonderful and thoughtful tribute to the actor that captures the soulful figure and his fascinating career. Certainly long overdue, it seems only right that it would come from the University Press of his home state. Flawlessly written by veteran journalist Atkins and packed with juicy nuggets of cinema history, this one is essential reading for film fans.

Harry Dean Stanton: Hollywood’s Zen Rebel is available now in ebook and hardback. Order your copy here.