Dean Stockwell, ‘Blue Velvet,’ ‘Quantum Leap’ Actor, Dead at 85
Dean Stockwell, best known for his roles in Blue Velvet and Quantum Leap, died on Nov. 7 of natural causes. He was 85.
Born Robert Dean Stockwell in 1936 in North Hollywood, the accomplished actor came from a theatrical family: His father, Harry, was a performer and singer in New York productions of Carousel and Oklahoma! as well as the voice of Prince Charming in Disney’s Snow White.
While his dad was appearing on Broadway in Oklahoma!, Stockwell heard about a nearby play called Innocent Voyage by Paul Osborne that was seeking child actors. His mother took him and his older brother, Guy, to audition, where they both landed roles. Though his part was small and the production didn’t run long, the show led to a contract with movie company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Stockwell’s first big-screen appearance was in 1945’s Valley of the Decision, but before long he was appearing in many high-profile productions, including Anchors Aweigh with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, Kim with Errol Flynn, Gentleman’s Agreement and The Boy With the Green Hair.
Stockwell continued to act in films throughout the ’40s and into the early ’50s, though he later noted that working as a child actor had its challenges. “I didn’t enjoy acting particularly when I was young, I thought it was a lot of work, ” he said in a 1995 interview. “There were a few films that I enjoyed, they were comedies, they were not important films, weren’t very successful, so I was always pretty much known as a serious kid. I got those kind of roles, and I didn’t care for them very much.”
After graduating from high school in Los Angeles, he attended the University of California, Berkeley, for a year before dropping out. Stockwell then returned to acting as a young adult in 1956, guest-starring on multiple TV shows and appearing on Broadway in Compulsion. He went on to reprise the role for the 1959 film version, which won him Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.
Stockwell frequently dipped in and out of his acting career — in the ’60s, he was involved with hippie groups in Southern California, participating in drug-filled love-ins, and he nearly changed professional course entirely in the early ’80s by obtaining a real-estate license and moving out of Los Angeles. Stockwell was considering leaving the film industry again when he got a call from fellow actor Harry Dean Stanton, who convinced him to join him on the set of Wim Wenders’ acclaimed Paris, Texas, a move that led Stockwell to some of his most memorable roles, like Dune, Blue Velvet, Married to the Mob (for which he earned a supporting actor Oscar nomination), The Rainmaker and The Player.
Watch Dean Stockwell in ‘Blue Velvet’
“I made that whole character up,” Stockwell said of his most memorable character, Ben, in Blue Velvet. “I did the wardrobe, I did the makeup, everything. Made it up out of my own demented head. … I enjoy watching some of the characters I’ve done, like Al on Quantum Leap and Blue Velvet because it’s zany, and that’s the part of my work that I like the best. Some writer in Rolling Stone said about Blue Velvet that I created a new high-water mark for alien humor in that film!”
His best-known role was in the sci-fi TV series Quantum Leap, where he played Admiral Al Calavicci, receiving four Emmy nominations for his role. In more recent years, he appeared on the Battlestar Galactica reboot, The Tony Danza Show and NCIS: New Orleans. He also began making and exhibiting his own original artwork under his given full name, Robert Dean Stockwell.
Stockwell is survived by his wife, Joy, and their two children, Austin and Sophie .
In Memoriam: 2021 Deaths
Remembering the musicians, actors, producers and others who have died in 2021.