Dean Stockwell, Quantum Leap and Blue Velvet actor, dies aged 85

Versatile actor had worked in Hollywood since childhood, and was Oscar nominated for his role in 1988 comedy Married to the Mob

A life in pictures: Dean Stockwell

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.”

Travelling through ... Quantum Leap, starring (l) Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell.
Travelling through ... Quantum Leap, starring (l) Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex/Shutterstock

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.


Andrew Pulver

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Harry Dean Stanton, cult American actor, dies aged 91
Prolific character actor, who appeared in scores of films including Paris, Texas, Alien, Repo Man and The Straight Story, died in an LA hospital on Friday

Andrew Pulver

16, Sep, 2017 @9:25 AM

Article image
Dean Stockwell: cult indie character actor who refused to fit in | Peter Bradshaw
At once an insider yet never quite Hollywood enough, Stockwell’s prolific career was at its best when he showed his own alienation

Peter Bradshaw

09, Nov, 2021 @1:04 PM

Article image
Dean Stockwell obituary
American screen star who began his career as a child actor and went on to find fame in Quantum Leap and Blue Velvet

Ryan Gilbey

09, Nov, 2021 @3:37 PM

Article image
Angelo Badalamenti, David Lynch’s composer on Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet and more, dies aged 85
Musician collaborated with Lynch on multiple projects and albums, and also worked with the likes of Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Nina Simone

Sian Cain

12, Dec, 2022 @11:11 PM

Article image
American Horror Story actor Harry Hains dies aged 27
The Australian actor had appeared in Ryan Murphy’s anthology series and the Netflix show The OA

Hannah J Davies

10, Jan, 2020 @12:36 PM

Article image
Veteran British actor David Warner, star of The Omen and Tron, dies aged 80
The stage and screen veteran’s multifaceted career included roles in Titanic, Time Bandits and Straw Dogs, as well as a renowned Hamlet for the RSC

Steve Rose

25, Jul, 2022 @10:48 AM

Article image
James Gandolfini dies aged 51

Star of HBO's hit series The Sopranos may have suffered heart attack in Italy, according to cable network spokeswoman

David Batty

20, Jun, 2013 @12:56 AM

Article image
Rip Torn, cult actor and Artie in the Larry Sanders Show dies aged 88
Star of a string of 60s classics fell foul of Hollywood because of his temper but found a fresh lease of life in comedy, from TV’s Larry Sanders Show to the Men in Black films

Andrew Pulver

10, Jul, 2019 @6:36 AM

Article image
Peter Tork, bassist for the Monkees, dies aged 77
Accomplished folk musician and teen star helped move the guitar-pop band beyond their manufactured image

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

21, Feb, 2019 @5:40 PM

Article image
Leonard Nimoy, actor who played Mr Spock on Star Trek, dies aged 83
Nimoy, who played the legendary character in the original Star Trek television series, died of pulmonary disease after being hospitalised earlier this week

Rory Carroll in Los Angeles

27, Feb, 2015 @8:50 PM