On Tuesday, it was reported that Dean Stockwell — one of the most diverse performers in the entertainment industry, whose credits reach back to the 1940s — had passed away. He was 85 years old. Stockwell lived quite the picturesque life. He was a child actor who hit young adulthood just in time to play a role in the counterculture. His credits span movies and TV, from two appearances on Columbo to five seasons on Quantum Leap, and even a toe in the music world. As such, his passing attracted a wide range of mourners.
Stockwell’s career began in the Golden Age of Hollywood, when he was only nine years old, when he was a regular go-to for precocious kids. He appeared opposite Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in 1947’s Anchors Aweigh and, the same year, the growing son of William Powell and Myrna Loy’s married sleuths Nick and Nora in Song of the Thin Man.
As he got older, he co-starred in a Leopold and Loeb-like court drama with Orson Welles (Compulsion) and held his own opposite Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, and Jason Robards in the 1962 film version of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. As the counterculture took over the culture, he was there, appearing in Psych-Out, with a young, ponytailed Jack Nicholson, and with his friend Dennis Hopper in 1971’s The Last Movie.
He was also good friends with Neil Young, and the two collaborated twice. Stockwell designed the bizarre collage cover of his 1976 album American Stars ‘n Bars, and the two co-directed the 1982 musical comedy Human Highway, which features, among other sights, Devo jamming out to Young’s classic “Hey Hey, My My.”
To some, Stockwell was most remembered as Al, the companion to Scott Bakula’s time-traveling hero on Quantum Leap. Each episode found Bakula’s Dr. Sam Beckett (no relation to the legendary playwright, though the name was nudge-nudgey) unwittingly finding himself zapped into the body of a random person over time. Stockwell’s Al, who was an admiral from his real time who communicated with him via hologram, was at once Sam’s friend and guide as well as the show’s comic relief.
Bakula was one of many to honor Stockwell after news of his passing broke. “We connected immediately,” he wrote, saying that he “stuck with us” even after he received his first and only Oscar nomination, for the 1987 comedy Married to the Mob. “I loved him dearly and was honored to know him,” Bakula wrote. “He made me a better human being…”
Stockwell also worked with David Lynch twice: in his 1984 version of Dune (Stockwell played the doomed Dr. Yueh) and, even more memorably, as the enigmatic Ben in Blue Velvet. Lynch made sure to honor Stockwell during his daily weather report YouTube video.
Another Lynch alum, Russ Tamblyn, paid tribute as well. The two had come up the ranks together, appearing as children in 1948’s The Boy with Green Hair, with starred Stockwell as a boy so worried about impending war that his hair turns a freakish color. “Dean. My oldest friend. A godfather-figure to my daughter, Amber. Brilliant artist. Loving dad,” Tamblyn wrote. “Rest easy now, brother. Give Dennis [Hopper] a hug from me when you see him on the other side.”
Dean. My oldest friend. A godfather-figure to my daughter, Amber. Brilliant artist. Loving dad. We met on the set of The Boy With Green Hair, stayed close til his last breath.
— Russ Tamblyn (@RussTamblyn) November 9, 2021
Stockwell affected many over his seven decade-plus career, from those he worked with to those who admired his craft, his range, and his resiliency.
Dean Stockwell was one of the greatest actors of his generation. Less showboaty and affected than many of his more famous contemporaries, but often more nuanced and interesting. I wanted him badly for my Showbiz Kids doc but he politely refused, he was done with the camera. RIP https://t.co/Xb4A92VzRv
— Alex Winter (@Winter) November 9, 2021
A true giant of a human being has passed. I was so fortunate to have worked with him on Miami Vice and Battlestar. I will cherish the years we spent together He was a gift to all who truly knew him. #RIP #SoSayWeAll https://t.co/PBYvOKUczA
— Edward James Olmos (@edwardjolmos) November 9, 2021
— Illeana Douglas (@Illeanarama) November 9, 2021
Got to work with Dean Stockwell in Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker. What a talented actor. One of the joys of working on Bats for 30 years was working with the amazing guest artists. Goodnight, Dean Stockwell https://t.co/S7kgOfeu72 https://t.co/oVMOZ2FAPG
— Kevin Conroy (@RealKevinConroy) November 9, 2021
Dean Stockwell was the coolest. Such a privilege to have worked with this legend. His career spanned 70 years!
RIP, Dean. 🙏🏼
— Ming-Na Wen (@MingNa) November 9, 2021
Goodnight, Dean Stockwell (1937-2021) 💙
Here's the legendary actor in two of his iconic performances: Walt Henderson in PARIS, TEXAS (1984) and Ben in BLUE VELVET (1986). pic.twitter.com/yGGqBFyg3p
— Criterion Collection (@Criterion) November 9, 2021
We leave you with maybe Stockwell’s most famous screen sequence: Him lip-synching along to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” in Blue Velvet as his friend Dennis Hopper looks on in tears.