Dean Stockwell of ‘Quantum Leap’, ‘Blue Velvet’ Dies at 85

NEW YORK (AP) — Dean Stockwell, a top Hollywood actor who achieved newfound success in middle age in the sci-fi series “Quantum Leap” and in a string of indelible film performances, including David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” Wim Wenders’ ‘Paris, Texas’ and Jonathan Demme’s ‘Married to the Mob’ have passed away. He was 85.

Jay Schwartz, a family spokesperson, said Stockwell died of natural causes at home on Sunday.

Stockwell was Oscar-nominated for his comedy Mafia pivot in “Married to the Mob” and was an Emmy nominee four times for “Quantum Leap.” But in a career that spanned seven decades, Stockwell was a supreme character actor whose performances — lip-syncing Roy Orbison in a nightmarish party scene in “Blue Velvet,” a desperate cop in Robert Altman’s “The Player,” Howard Hughes in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” – didn’t have to be long to be hypnotic.

Stockwell’s own relationship with acting, which started on Broadway at age 7, was complicated. In an itinerant career, he retired from show business several times, including at age 16 and again in the 1980s, when he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to sell real estate.

“Dean spent a lifetime yo-yoing between fame and anonymity,” his family said in a statement. “That’s why he was grateful when he got a job. He never took the business for granted. He was a rebel, incredibly talented and always a breath of fresh air.”

Dark-haired Stockwell was a Hollywood veteran by the time he reached his teens. In his twenties, he starred on Broadway as a young killer in the play ‘Compulsion’ and in prestigious films such as ‘Sons and Lovers’. He was twice named Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, in 1959 for the big screen version of “Compulsion” and in 1962 for Sidney Lumet’s adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”. Although his career had some lean times, he reached his full stride in the 1980s.

“My way of working is still the same as it was in the beginning — completely intuitive and instinctive,” he told The New York Times in 1987. “But as you live your life, you accumulate so many millions of experiences and bits of information that you become a richer vessel as a person. You draw from more experience.”

His Oscar-nominated role as Tony “The Tiger” Russo, a flamboyant mobster, in the 1988 hit “Married to the Mob” led to his most notable TV role the following year, in NBC’s science fiction series “Quantum Leap”. Both roles had strong comedic elements.

“It’s the first time anyone has offered me a series and the first time I’ve ever wanted to do one,” he said in 1989. “If people hadn’t seen me in ‘Married To the Mob,’ they wouldn’t have done it.” realizes I could do comedy.”

With Stockwell in “Quantum Leap,” Scott Bakula played a scientist who takes on different identities in different eras after a time travel experiment goes awry. As his colleague, “The Observer”, Stockwell aids his aid, but can only be seen on a holographic computer image. The show lasted from 1989 to 1993.

“The only time he ever complained was when we called him on the golf course and told him we were ready to let him come to work,” Bakula recalled in a statement on Tuesday. “He always announced his presence on the soundstage (if we hadn’t already caught a whiff of cigar smoke coming after him), with a roar: ‘The fun starts now!’ Truer words were never spoken.”

He continued to play roles, big and small, in movies and TV, into the 21st century, including a regular role on another science fiction series, “Battlestar Galactica.”

Stockwell became an actor at a young age. His father, Harry Stockwell, voiced the role of Prince Charming in Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and appeared in several Broadway musicals.

At the age of 7, Dean made his show debut in the 1943 Broadway show “The Innocent Voyage,” the story of orphans who get entangled in pirates. His older brother, Guy, was also in the cast.

A producer at MGM was impressed with Dean and persuaded the studio to sign him. His first major role was as Kathryn Grayson’s cousin in the 1945 musical “Anchors Aweigh” starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra.

Over the next few years, Stockwell appeared in such films as the Oscar-winning anti-Semitism drama “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” starring Gregory Peck, as well as “Song of the Thin Man,” the last of the William Powell-Myrna Loy mystery series, in which Stockwell their son is playing.

He had the title roles in the 1948 anti-war film ‘The Boy With Green Hair’, about a war orphan whose hair changes color, and ‘Kim’, the 1950 version of Rudyard Kipling’s story, starring Errol Flynn. . Movies in his youth also include “Down to the Sea in Ships,” with Lionel Barrymore; “The Secret Garden”, with Margaret O’Brien; and “Stars in My Crown” with Joel McCrea.

“I was very lucky to have a loving, caring and sympathetic mother and not a stage mother,” he told The Associated Press in 1989. Still, he stressed that it wasn’t always easy, and he quit the business when he reached 16.

“I never really wanted to be an actor,” he said. “I found acting very difficult from the start. I worked long days, six days a week. It was not fun.” It wasn’t the only time he dropped out. But, he said, “I came back every time because I had no other training.”

After five years of revitalizing, Stockwell returned to New York, where he co-starred on Broadway with Roddy McDowall in “Compulsion,” a 1957 drama based on the infamous Leopold-Loeb murder trial in which two college students kill a 14-year-old. killed. old boy for the thrill of it. The film version starred Orson Welles.

Stockwell had two more prestigious film roles in the early 1960s. He was the struggling son in DH Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers” – an Oscar nominee for best picture – and the sensitive younger brother in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” starring Ralph Richardson and Katharine Hepburn.

He also tried his hand at theater directing, putting on a well-received program of Beckett and Ionesco plays in Los Angeles in 1961.

In 1960, Stockwell married Millie Perkins, best known for her starring role as Anne in the 1959 film “The Diary of Anne Frank”. The marriage ended in divorce after just two years.

In the mid-1960s, Stockwell retired from Hollywood and became a regular in the hippie enclave of Topanga Canyon. After Dennis Hopper’s encouragement, Stockwell wrote a screenplay that was never produced, but it inspired Neil Young’s 1970 album ‘After the Gold Rush’, which takes its name from Stockwell’s script. Stockwell, a longtime friend of Young, directed and later co-starred with Young in 1982’s Human Highway. Stockwell also designed the cover of Young’s 1977 album American Stars ‘N Bars.

In 1981, he married Joy Marchenko, a textile expert. As his career spiraled downward, Stockwell decided to move to New Mexico with his family. As soon as he left Hollywood, filmmakers started calling again.

He was cast as Harry Dean Stanton’s drifting brother in Wim Wenders’ critically acclaimed 1984 film “Paris, Texas” and that same year as the evil Dr. Yueh in Lynch’s “Dune”.

He called his success from the 1980s his ‘third career’. As for the Oscar nomination, he told the AP in 1989 that it was “something I’ve dreamed of for years. … It’s just one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”

Like his old friend Hopper, both a noted photographer and actor, Stockwell was active in the visual arts. He made photo collages and what he called ‘diceworks’, sculptures made of dice. He often used his full name, Robert Dean Stockwell, in his art projects.

His brother, Guy Stockwell, also became a prolific film and television actor and even did a guest recording of “Quantum Leap.” He died in 2002 at the age of 68.

Stockwell is survived by his wife, Joy, and their two children, Austin Stockwell and Sophie Stockwell.


This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the movie “Anchors Aweigh”.


The late Associated Press writer Bob Thomas added biographical information to this report.


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