Monday, December 16, 2013

Obituary: Tom Laughlin

Actor and director Tom Laughlin, best remembered for his work in the Billy Jack movies of the late 1960s and 1970s, has died at the age of 82 from pneumonia complications.

It's so damned depressing. It's sad he has passed away, but I am just thinking of how quickly time has passed. I remember when the movie Billy Jack was such a hit. Laughlin became a cult film favorite as a result of his starring as the peace-loving, ass-kicking hero of several films. Then he was young, and then all of a sudden, here he's dead.

Laughlin was married for 59 years (!) to co-star and collaborator Delores Taylor, who survives him. As a young man, Laughlin was deeply affected by the way Native Americans were treated and wanted to do something about making their plight public.

Enter the character of Billy Jack:

Laughlin was in his mid-30s when he created Billy Jack with his wife and collaborator, Delores Taylor. Billy Jack was half-white, half Native American, a Vietnam veteran and practitioner of martial arts who had come to hate war. Billy Jack was first seen in the 1968 biker movie "Born Losers," but became widely known after "Billy Jack," the second of four films Laughlin made about him (only three made it to theaters).

"Billy Jack" was completed in 1969, but its release was delayed for two years as Laughlin struggled to find studio backing. He eventually successfully sued Warner Bros. to retain rights and - with no support from Hollywood or from theater chains - Laughlin made a radical decision: Distribute the movie himself and rent theaters to show it in. He also was among the first to advertise on television and to immediately open a movie nationwide, rather than release it gradually.

Here is an interview Laughlin gave in 2001. He seemed to have been a nice person without much of an ego (contrary to some articles and books I read) though peddling his then-new DVD set. Additionally, he appeared to have been idealistic to a fault, which may not have fit in so well with these cynical times:

No comments: