Harry Dean Stanton: Celebrating 90 Years of Awesomeness
On October 23, Santa Monica video rental store-turned-nonprofit Vidiots bestowed the Harry Dean Stanton Award to Harry Dean Stanton. It was an unforgettable night for an unforgettable actor.
Harry Dean Stanton.
He may be one of your favorite actors, or you may be wondering who the hell he is.
You‘ve definitely seen him.
He’s acted in over 200 films, from Repo Man to Pretty in Pink to Cool Hand Luke to Wild at Heart to Alien to Paris, Texas, his only leading-role film.
Stanton is the rugged-face actor with soul-betraying eyes and firm-yet-soothing voice.
He’s the guy who always stole the show, even when he was second billed, third billed or not billed at all.
He’s the grandfather figure you’d love to grab a drink with because something about him suggests he’s one of us, the everyday man or woman.
For all of these traits and more, Vidiots, an iconic Santa Monica video store-turned-nonprofit created the Harry Dean Stanton Award and bestowed the inaugural honor to the man himself.
Held at The Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown LA, the event ended up being a who’s who in Stanton’s life. Though public billing listed host Ed Begley Jr., Father John Misty, Karen O. and John C. Reilly, many surprise guests came to bid their love, including David Lynch, Johnny Depp, Anjelica Houston, Danny Houston, Griffin Dunne and most touching, Stanton’s ex-girlfriend Rebecca De Mornay. The theater was full but not sold out, and though I assume the venue and Vidiots would have appreciated a sold-out show, this lent well to the intimacy and informality of the event. No one person had a bad seat in the house, and by the end of the evening, the crowd felt a part of the extended Stanton family.
The evening kicked off with the understated and talented Ed Begley Jr., who shared stories of his 40-year friendship with Stanton. From there, he proceeded to introduce a parade of film clips, musical performances and speeches from friends and appreciators.
Anjelica Houston reminisced about her younger years with her boyfriend “Jack” and his friend Stanton. She thanked the 90-year-old actor, sitting in the front row, for helping her cope with the death of her father, director John Huston, and apologized to Stanton’s ex-girlfriend, Rebecca De Mornay, for spending a drunken night in his bed after a Bob Dylan concert. Her brother, actor Danny Huston, also in attendance, gave a monologue in honor of the actor.
John Densmore, drummer for The Doors and an old friend of Stanton’s, saw the flyer for the event around LA, dug up the actor’s old landline number and called. As he told the audience: “I call the number and it rings and rings and then I hear ‘Yeah?’ I say, ‘Hey, Harry, it’s John Densmore. Are you going to be at this event in your honor?’ He says to me, ‘I hate being famous.’”
John C. Reilly, decked out in Western wear, sang and gave a shout out to his favorite Stanton film, Pretty in Pink. Griffin Dunne admitted that on three separate occasions that evening, strangers mistook him for Stanton. Father John Misty did his best Jim Morrison impression with The Doors’ hit “Moonlight Ride,” with Densmore on the drums. And Kris Kristofferson also took to the stage, singing several of his own hits. (Somewhere during this time, Jakob Dylan offered a robotic performance and wished Stanton ‘happy birthday’ three times, even though the actor’s birthday is in July.)
The one of two incredibly touching moments of the evening was the surprise visit of Stanton’s ex-girlfriend, the actress Rebecca De Mornay. If you had seen the 2012 documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, you would know that the only woman who seemed to have touched the perpetual bachelor’s life was De Mornay. She recalled their time together and emphasized how his guidance and mentorship changed her life. She admitted to being nervous about speaking at the event, and called “Harry Dean” for advice.
“Harry Dean, what do I say?”
“Tell them we’re soul mates.”
This is when De Mornay broke down. After a long pause, she looked at Stanton and tearfully said, “We are soul mates.” To say the audience was moved is an understatement. Armed with knowledge of their relationship from the documentary, the crowd felt privy to an incredibly intimate and raw moment between two former lovers.
The second touching moment came from Stanton’s “right-hand man,” Logan Sparks. Sparks, who was a young “out-of-work actor and PA” when he met Stanton 15 years ago, became his assistant after Stanton asked him if he wanted to “smoke grass and party.” They’ve been close ever since.
“There are just some things that are bigger than the universe,” Sparks said. “And Harry Dean Stanton is one of those things.” Sparks turned to Stanton, who at this point was standing offstage, clutched his heart and said, “You affected me. You AFFECTED me.”
“My wife and I had the honor of naming our first child Stanton Sparks,” Sparks then shared with the crowd.
The award was given to Stanton by his longtime friend David Lynch. Decked out in his iconic black suit, his white hair piled high on his head, Lynch, in his Midwestern accent, gushed about his “buuu-tiful” friend. Stanton, his typical nonplussed self, accepted the award, recited Shakespeare and admitted to not really knowing what to say to the crowd. He threw out a couple of his Buddhist zingers — “You are nothing” — but was saved by a stranger in black with guitar (Johnny Depp), Kristofferson, Densmore and their makeshift rock band.
Stanton looked small. He looked 90, which was a shocking feeling since the actor kind of always looked old, even when he was 40, but now he reallylooks old. This appearance was amplified by his disheveled hair and oversized mismatching suit that was obviously pulled from an outdated closet. I say this without opinion; it’s more of an observation of a man who I thought never aged. If the rest of the crowd was concerned about his seemingly frail and slightly confused state, all concerns were thrown out the window when he sang Mexican love songs, in Spanish, with Mariachi Los Reyes. With the backing of such a superb band, Stanton came to life. His voice boomed, his heart broke and when he finished the last song, he enthusiastically (and sarcastically) said to the crowd, “This is the best night of my life. I love all of you. I’ll have my people call your people.” He then he raised his hands to the sky, taking in the adulation pouring in from a room full of people who truly love him.
Though Stanton has shifted his acting career down to a 5-mile cruise, he will be first billing, only for the second time in his life, in Lucky, a film co-written by Sparks, directed by John Carroll Lynch and co-starring David Lynch, Ed Begley Jr. and Tom Skerritt. According to Variety, the film “follows the spiritual journey of a 90-year-old atheist — played by Stanton — and the quirky characters that inhabit his off-the-map desert town. He finds himself at the precipice of life, thrust into a journey of self-exploration.”
Considering how biographical the synopsis of the plot is, it’s easy to surmise that this could be the nonagenarian’s swan song.
But we know better.
Harry Dean Stanton will life forever.
And thanks to Vidiots, we’ll be able to honor him year after year, and the talent who has followed in the great actor’s footsteps.