R.I.P. Dean Stockwell

I knew this day would come, but I’ve been low-key dreading it. But since it has arrived, there was nothing to do except write the best tribute I possibly could to this actor and his 70+-years long career.

The Mystery Was the Point: On the Life of Dean Stockwell (1936-2021)

Here I am with Dean Stockwell, at a party in Taos, at an art gallery with a new exhibition of Stockwell’s work. My friend Stevie and I – we had never met before outside our blogs, but that didn’t matter at ALL – drove to Taos, to go check it out, go see some art, go meet Stockwell. It was an absolutely magical night and I got to tell Dean Stockwell how much I loved his work. And my eternal thanks to Stevie, for taking the photo. I probably wouldn’t have asked for a snap myself. But now, boy, I am glad I have it.

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25 Responses to R.I.P. Dean Stockwell

  1. Jessie says:

    I just gasped. I’m so sorry. What a full life, a true gift. I treasure so much of his work. I look forward to reading your tribute. Sad sad day.

    • sheila says:

      I’m so sad! But grateful there’s just so much WORK to enjoy and still discover.

      My obsession with him was really what got me launched on writing about actors in a more serious way. So I really hold him dear.

  2. mutecypher says:

    I saw the news and was sure you’d have something to say. That was a sweet.

  3. Stevie says:

    Love love love ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
    What a magical night that was :-) with sky by Maxfield Parrish and soundtrack by the marimba ladies! Love you XOXO Stevie

    • sheila says:

      Stevie!! I was thinking so much about our crazy road trip to Taos – and how fun it was AND how glad I am that we just were like “Adventure! We just met! No problem! Let’s go to a party!!”

      Marimba ladies were awesome. and our party favors – I still have my Dean Stockwell fan!

      Love you friend. It’s been a long time. I hope you are well!

  4. Bill Wolfe says:

    I hadn’t heard that he died. I guess the best compliment I can give you for your tribute to him is that I’m glad this is how I found out. I loved Quantum Leap. I loved his performance in Married to the Mob – the moment when he’s trying to escape at the end at pulls up short because he knows he can’t get away is perfect. And I remember his character’s profound discomfort in his own skin in Compulsion. A really special actor. Oh, and as a lifelong Beatles lover, I was tickled to learn he made a contribution to the Sgt. Pepper cover!

    • sheila says:

      That Sgt. Pepper detail … I can’t get over it! He was just so at the center of so many cool eras – hippies, bikers, outlaws, musicians, artists – I really recommend the documentary The Cool School about that whole crowd if you’re interested. Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell are interviewed together. It was this whole world I wasn’t aware of – and nobody (meaning on the East Coast) paid attention to what California artists were doing. They were all bohemian gearheads – they loved big cars, bikes, and art. He was a huge part of it.

      I need a little time to do some re-watches – it’s been a while since I’ve re-watched Compulsion. I started Quantum Leap re-watch during the pandemic but then stopped, for whatever reason. I’m definitely going to do a full re-watch now. It’s such an entertaining show!

      • Bill Wolfe says:

        A friend of mine sent me a link to the tribute that Scott Bakula issued and I thought you’d like to see it. Also, in one of those gifts of serendipity that life gives us occasionally, last night on Mannix, the guest star was none other than Dean Stockwell. It was the third episode of Season Five, called a Step in Time. He was, not surprisingly, very good, although I would have liked to have seen more of him. (And – hoo boy! – those early 1970s fashions. I was pretty convinced that the wallpaper was going to turn out to be the killer.)

        Anyway, here’s Bakula’s tribute:

        I met Dean at his audition for Quantum Leap in 1988. He had agreed to ‘read’ for the Network, I was already cast. We connected immediately and my career and my life were changed that day in Brandon Tartikoff’s office. How lucky were we to get him? A few months later he would be nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Married to the Mob, but he was stuck with us. Serendipity? All I know is, he never tried to get out or complain, he loved the role and the show and the rest was history.

        He became a dear friend and a mentor and we grew very close over the next five, very intense years. Dean was such a passionate man…about life, his work, his art (he was an amazing artist!), his family, all kinds of causes, people, music, the planet, cigars, golf, and on and on! Having been a famous child actor, he had a soft spot for every young actor who came on our set. He was very protective of their rights and safety and always checked in with them to make sure that they were ok. His big hearted response to the kids made all of us take notice and be better guardians ourselves.

        In spite of having a career that came and went several times during his seventy plus years in the business, he was always grateful and delighted to have the chance to keep working. The only time he ever complained was when we called him on the golf course and told him we were ready for him to come to work! He used to announce his presence on the sound stage (if we hadn’t already caught a whiff of cigar smoke trailing in behind him), with a bellowed, “The fun starts now!” Truer words were never spoken.

        I loved him dearly and was honored to know him. He made me a better human being…

        • sheila says:

          Bill – yes, it was such a perfect tribute. I absolutely love how he advocated for the children on set – and the “the fun starts now” is so perfectly him.

          He was so COOL.

          and there is an Elvis connection: He was briefly married to Millie Perkins – I think the marriage lasted 1960-1962. A more gorgeous looking couple cannot even be imagined. During that time, Millie made Wild in the Country with Elvis. so I KNOW they met. Dennis Hopper hung around with Elvis – and Elvis was friends for a while with Nick Adams (also in that crowd – but I don’t trust Nick Adams – he was only in it for himself). So Elvis was part of that whole group, although probably treated like an exotic animal. Hopper’s stories about going to see Elvis at the Knickerbocker Hotel, and all the girls going into Elvis’ room and then coming back out, are very funny. I wish Dean had talked about Elvis! Millie Perkins’ perceptions of Elvis were so gentle and smart – she saw through the bullshit surrounding him.

  5. Barb says:

    I thought of you when I heard the news. He is a huge part of our movie-loving psyche.

  6. Todd Restler says:

    I found this post on Stockwell’s performance in The Player. I couldn’t reply on that thread for some reason, but you may want to repost this because it’s brilliant.


    What a great actor. You mention how in The Player he was so animated, which was a bit unusual for him since he was often detached or “cool”.

    Reminds me that I first saw him as a smarmy, detached lawyer in To Live and Die in L.A., one of my favorite movies. He seemed like he had a whole other movie to get back to, and I could have watched a sequel on just his character.

    And I was a huge Quantum Leap fan as well, and feel like revisiting it now since I haven’t seen it since it aired. Great actor, fascinating career.

    • sheila says:

      Todd – wow, I hadn’t read that piece in a million years. One of the things I love about that performance is the obsessively pointing finger – he’s always on the make, trying to make his points with that finger – it comes in from off-screen, always makes me laugh!

      // Reminds me that I first saw him as a smarmy, detached lawyer in To Live and Die in L.A., one of my favorite movies. //

      YES. I absolutely love that performance – I should re-watch that movie. I love it.

      I’ve re-watched a number of Quantum Leap episodes since the news of his death came – I watched the pilot and the finale back to back – Bruce McGill in both!! – and then the Season 2 finale, which I mention in the piece. He’s so wonderful in it.

      Somehow the show avoids sentimentality and schmaltz – it walks that line, anyway – it’s NOT “Touched by an Angel” and I think that’s in large part because of Stockwell. He’s such an earthy presence, he keeps things light, wisecracking, sexy … otherwise the whole thing would be just too earnest. Bakula is earnest, but in a way that plays off of Stockwell beautifully – they’re so good together.

  7. Todd Restler says:

    I am mildly obsessed with To Live and Die in L.A.

  8. Todd Restler says:

    The car chase is the best ever filmed in my opinion. Friedkin set out to top himself after The French Connection and somehow succeeded. The sense of time and space, it’s incredible.

    The movie is great from beginning to end. The screenplay is based on a novel by a former secret service agent, and the whole thing feels incredibly authentic. It’s not a movie where the screenplay would be the first thing that you consider, but it’s like a Swiss watch.

    The scenes where Willem Dafoe is counterfeiting, and for that matter the way he runs his whole business, are so good I’m pretty certain I could become a counterfeiter tomorrow if I wanted to.

    Dafoe is great, Jon Pankow is incredible, early John Turturro is great, and Dean Stockwell has I think 2 short scenes where it felt like his character was the star of an entirely different movie.

    But William Peterson, my goodness. In the history of movies, between this and Long Gone, nobody was ever as cool to me as William Peterson. Maybe Paul Newman was close. Which is why the ending (which they ad-libbed on the fly) is one of my all time favorites.

    I love this movie, it’s incredibly underrated in my opinion. Not that people dislike it, but it belongs in the Pantheon and for some reason it’s not.

    • sheila says:

      // are so good I’m pretty certain I could become a counterfeiter tomorrow if I wanted to. //

      Ha! I know! I love films that really dig into “how this works” – whatever it is. There’s a long long scene in Purple Noon where Alain Delon learns how to forge someone else’s signature, and it’s basically a How To – and I love that kind of attention to detail.

      // Dean Stockwell has I think 2 short scenes where it felt like his character was the star of an entirely different movie. //

      lol!! I know! You’re making me want to watch it again right now.

      For me, the two top car chases are To Live and Die in LA and Bullitt – with French Connection a close third. Like … do car chases like that or don’t do them! There’s a YouTube clip showing all the stunt coordinators and stunt drivers planning out that chase in To Live and Die in LA – I don’t know if it was a featurette, or a special features for a DVD release – ? – either way, it’s fascinating how they planned it all out.

      // Not that people dislike it, but it belongs in the Pantheon and for some reason it’s not. //

      I totally agree.

      I wonder why it’s not.

    • Bill Wolfe says:

      “In the history of movies, between this and Long Gone, nobody was ever as cool to me as William Peterson.” At last! Someone who knows and loves Long Gone! To me, this is every bit as good as Bull Durham – which is praise for Long Gone, not a knock at Bull Durham. The name Dixie Lee Boxx alone is genius.

      • Todd Restler says:

        Long Gone is an appropriate name for that film since it’s all but vanished. I think there is an issue with the rights – it originally aired on HBO they don’t own the movie any more so it’s incredibly hard to find.

        It’s the best baseball movie ever made IMO. Peterson is amazing in it. Bull Durham is a cheesy knock off of Long Gone.

        “Kid, let me tell you one of life’s great truths. All girls…….fuck.”
        – Stud Cantrell

        Let’s go Stogies.

  9. Mike Molloy says:

    TCM doing a mini retrospective on Dean Stockwell Monday November 22. 7 features from his early career, 1945-1951:

    Anchors Aweigh
    The Green Years
    The Mighty McGurk
    The Happy Years
    The Secret Garden
    The Boy with Green Hair

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