Dean Stockwell, the former child star who became a key figure in the Hollywood counter-culture and enjoyed late success in popular TV shows, has died aged 85. According to Deadline, his family said he died at home “of natural causes”.
Born in Los Angeles in 1936, Stockwell had become a major name while still in high school, starring in the anti-racism parable The Boy With Green Hair in 1948 and alongside Errol Flynn in the 1950 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. However, Stockwell found the transition to adulthood difficult and after dropping out of university he re-established his film career with a lead role in Compulsion, the 1959 crime film based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case, for which he won a best actor award at the Cannes film festival alongside co-stars Orson Welles and Bradford Dillman.
Stockwell won another best actor award at Cannes for the 1962 adaptation of Long Day’s Journey into Night, directed by Sidney Lumet, and continued working steadily on TV, but was rapidly growing disillusioned with the entertainment business; he famously joined Hollywood’s Topanga Canyon hippy culture and largely dropped out of acting. In 1968, he began to return, appearing as a guru-like long-hair in Richard Rush’s Psych-Out, and in 1970 in Dennis Hopper’s epic The Last Movie; he later said: “It was a great pleasure to work with Dennis on it and we had a wild time down there in Peru.”
Stockwell continued to associate with Hopper and other counter-culture figures such as Bruce Dern, Rip Torn and fellow former child star Russ Tamblyn, but struggled to find work in the 70s, and by the early 80s had largely switched to selling real estate. A career revival began to gather momentum after David Lynch cast him in a small role in his 1984 adaptation of Dune, followed by a larger role in Paris, Texas, after lead actor Harry Dean Stanton suggested him to director Wim Wenders. Stockwell’s new cachet was cemented with a role in Lynch’s next film, Blue Velvet, in which he performed a memorably creepy lip-sync to Roy Orbison’s In Dreams.
Stockwell then gained an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his role as a mafia boss in Jonathan Demme’s 1988 comedy Married to the Mob, saying: “Some people might pooh-pooh it and say it didn’t mean anything, but it does. It’s really gratifying to get the recognition from your peers.” In 1989, he also secured probably his most high-profile TV role alongside Scott Bakula in time travel series Quantum Leap, which ran until 1993, and for which he won three Emmy awards and a Golden Globe.
For the next two decades, Stockwell worked steadily on TV and in Hollywood, often as authority figures; he appeared in Robert Altman’s The Player, Air Force One and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker, while on TV he had roles in JAG, Star Trek Enterprise and Battlestar Galactica. In 2015, he retired from acting following a stroke.
Stockwell was married twice: to actor Millie Perkins between 1960 and 1962, and then to Joy Marchenko from 1981 t0 2004, with whom he had two children.