Former child star Dean Stockwell, the Oscar-nominated actor who turned his back on Hollywood again and again only to earn cult status in “Blue Velvet” and “Married to the Mob,” has died.
The veteran actor, who appeared in more than 200 roles that spanned film, television and theater, starred in “The Boy With Green Hair,” “Anchors Aweigh,” “Blue Velvet” and “Married to the Mob” before turning to the small screen for star roles in the sci-fi series “Quantum Leap” and “Battlestar Galactica.”
Stockwell died early Sunday morning at home, peacefully and of natural causes, a representative told Variety and Deadline. TMZ was first to report on his death. He was 85.
“I had the pleasure of working with Dean Stockwell for a short period of time before his retirement from the entertainment industry,” his former manager Lesa Kirk said Tuesday in a statement to The Times. “Dean was a gentle, gracious and one of a kind, a class act. Dean will truly be missed.”
Stockwell was very much a child of Hollywood: He was born Robert Dean Stockwell in North Hollywood in 1936 into a show business family, complete with stage parents. His father was Harry Stockwell, who voiced Prince Charming in Walt Disney’s 1937 animated classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and his mother, Betty, was an actress and dancer. His younger brother, Guy Stockwell, was an actor who later became an acting coach after appearing in about 30 movies and some 250 TV shows before he died in 2002.
Stockwell’s parents pushed him into theater at the age of 7, and as a young boy he made his Broadway debut with his brother in 1943’s “The Innocent Voyage.” Two years later, he signed as a contract player at MGM, where he made his film debut in “The Valley of Decision” with Greer Garson and Gregory Peck.
That same year he made a splash in Gene Kelly’s classic musical comedy “Anchors Aweigh,” alongside Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson. Over the next seven years, he appeared in 17 MGM films, including “The Green Years” (1946), “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947), “The Boy With Green Hair” (1948) and “The Secret Garden” (1949).
By 15 he’d already made 20 films but disliked the attention, so he bid farewell to Hollywood in 1952, when he was just 16. To escape the pressure, he changed his name and roamed the country for five years, picking up what odd jobs he could. But with few marketable skills, he returned to acting in 1957, appearing in a Broadway production of “Compulsion” as the intense leading man. He reprised the role for the 1959 film adaptation and won an acting award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance. He also appeared as Edmund opposite Katharine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson in the 1962 film version of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” That performance earned him another Cannes award.
The actor married “The Diary of Anne Frank” star Millie Perkins in 1960, but they divorced two years later. Despite his renewed success, Stockwell took a three-year break from the industry in the 1960s and became a self-proclaimed hippie, hanging out in Topanga Canyon with actors Dennis Hopper and Russ Tamblyn.
He made another comeback in the early 1970s, appearing in several television and film roles, only to leave the business again in 1976. He met his second wife, Joy Marchenko, on the beach during the 1976 Cannes film festival and they wed in 1981.
Stockwell returned to Hollywood again, making his directorial debut with Neil Young in the offbeat apocalyptic comedy “Human Highway,” which he co-wrote and starred in with Hopper and Tamblyn, in 1982. But again he abandoned his acting career and sold real estate in Santa Fe, N.M.
“The [best acting] scrolls from Cannes, I threw in the fireplace one night,” he said in a 1990 interview with The Times. “I don’t know. I couldn’t get any work. I was depressed. I was (angry) one night and I threw ’em in the fire.”
But almost as soon as he left town, Hollywood came looking for him again.
Stockwell took supporting parts in a string of films before running into director David Lynch in Mexico City. Lynch said he thought Stockwell had already died.
“This person looked familiar but [I told myself] it couldn’t be who I thought it was, and it made me feel a little nutty,” Lynch told The Times in 1990. “Then I realized it was Dean, and he was alive.”
The duo worked together on Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of “Dune,” in which Stockwell played the evil Dr. Wellington Yueh. He stuck with Lynch when the director began filming “Blue Velvet,” in which he played a pimp who coos while torturing a girl.
“I didn’t feel that I was taking a chance with ‘Blue Velvet,’” Stockwell told The Times. “I felt I was hitting the nail on the head. Dennis [Hopper] played an unforgivable psycho in the film, and I was supposed to be someone he admired. I realized I had to be stranger than he was.”
Still, Stockwell said that he never felt he belonged in the mainstream of show business.
“I’ve always felt I was off to the side, somehow,” he told The Times in 1986. “People are always asking me: ‘Why do you keep making these offbeat movies?’ The answer is: They’re the only ones offered to me usually.”
But Hollywood eventually took notice and Stockwell earned a supporting actor Oscar nomination for Jonathan Demme’s 1988 comedy “Married to the Mob,” playing mafioso Tony “The Tiger” Russo.
Fresh off the nomination, Stockwell took on the role of a wisecracking hologram on NBC’s sci-fi series “Quantum Leap” from 1989 to 1993; he won a Golden Globe Award in 1990. He also played Admiral Al Calavicci, best friend to Scott Bakula’s time-traveling physicist. The series earned both men a cult following that continued when Stockwell played John Cavil on Syfy’s acclaimed “Battlestar Galactica,” which ran from 2006 to 2009.
Stockwell went on to appear in several films, including action-thrillers “Air Force One” with Harrison Ford in 1997 and “The Manchurian Candidate” in 2004. He also had recurring roles in the short-lived series “The Tony Danza Show” and “JAG.” In 2014, he reunited with Bakula for a guest appearance on “NCIS: New Orleans.” In his later years, the pair also made the rounds at various comic book and sci-fi conventions.
An avowed environmentalist, Stockwell voiced eco-villain Duke Nukem in the 1990s environmental cartoon, “Captain Planet and the Planeteers.”
His admirers raised the $30,000 sponsorship fee for the actor to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame by recycling bottles and cans.