'Quantum Leap' actor Dean Stockwell has died at 85 The veteran actor was known for his wide variety of roles — from sci-fi tv shows such as Quantum Leap and Battlestar Galactica, to arthouse classics like Paris, Texas and Blue Velvet.

'Blue Velvet' and 'Quantum Leap' actor Dean Stockwell has died at age 85

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The longtime actor Dean Stockwell has died. He was notably a costar on the hit sci-fi TV show "Quantum Leap," but he also had memorable supporting roles in movies such as "Blue Velvet" and "Married To The Mob." He died Sunday at 85 years old after performing for seven decades.

NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Robert Dean Stockwell started young. By the time he was 7 years old, he was acting next to Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in "Anchors Aweigh."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ANCHORS AWEIGH")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) All set?

DEAN STOCKWELL: (As Donald Martin) No, I always get sung to sleep.

LIMBONG: But his big role as a kid was in 1948's "The Boy With Green Hair."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What have you done to your hair, lad?

STOCKWELL: (As Peter Fry) It turned green.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) All by itself?

STOCKWELL: (As Peter Fry) All by itself.

LIMBONG: In it, Stockwell plays the titular boy whose parents die in a war. It's a movie about pacifism and ostracism. And it categorized Stockwell as a serious actor - something special.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

STOCKWELL: Wherever I went, I was treated as something different.

LIMBONG: That's Stockwell talking to WHYY's "Fresh Air" in 1988. He said kids didn't like him because he was different. That just left the adults he worked with.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

STOCKWELL: Who, at one moment, would treat me as a child and insist that I remember that I was a child and, at the next minute, would expect an adult-level performance and type of work. So it was almost deranging.

LIMBONG: He left Hollywood after graduating high school but came back in his early 20s. Notably, he was in Sidney Lumet's 1962 "Long Day's Journey Into Night" where he plays the young Edmund, who is kind of naive about his mother's addiction.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) ...Stick around?

STOCKWELL: (As Edmund Tyrone) Because she accused me and you and papa of spying on her all the time and not trusting her. She made me feel ashamed. I know how rotten it must be for her.

LIMBONG: The role got him recognition and an award from the Cannes Film Festival. But Stockwell would long have trouble appreciating his own work from this stretch of time. There's an interview he did with Turner Classic Movies where the interviewer asks...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED INTERVIEWER: Were you proud of those performances?

LIMBONG: And he pauses for a good five seconds.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STOCKWELL: I don't think they were bad. I don't - I'm not real proud of them, no. At the time, you couldn't have offered me a compliment. I would have refused it. I was...

LIMBONG: Stockwell didn't love acting, but acting was all he knew. He tried to get out again and got a license to sell real estate. But before he left, he got a call from actor Harry Dean Stanton, who convinced Stockwell to do a movie with him - Wim Wenders' "Paris, Texas."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PARIS, TEXAS")

STOCKWELL: (As Walt Henderson) Can you tell me the exact location of your hospital down there? Where the hell is that?

STOCKWELL: This begins a stretch of his career where he plays these scene-stealing roles in movies like "Blue Velvet" and "Married To The Mob," where he plays the skeevy Tony "The Tiger" Russo.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MARRIED TO THE MOB")

STOCKWELL: (As Tony Russo) I want to reassure you, Angela, you're not going to be alone. I'm going to take care of you.

LIMBONG: That role earned him a best supporting actor Academy Award nomination. By this point in his career, he had processed his life's work. Here he is again on "Fresh Air."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

STOCKWELL: It wasn't until my late 30s and 40s that I began to really come to terms with that I was an actor, that it was not a useless or bad thing to be, and there was some value in it and that I could appreciate it for myself

LIMBONG: Just in time, too, because by 1989, he'd enter a career-defining role on the long-running TV show "Quantum Leap" as Al - the only somewhat helpful holographic sidekick.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "QUANTUM LEAP")

STOCKWELL: (As Al Calavicci) If we knew the unknown, the unknown wouldn't be unknown.

LIMBONG: Even after the show ended, Stockwell kept working until 2015, which makes 70 years in acting. In that "Fresh Air" interview, he said he probably wouldn't have been very good at selling real estate.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

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