Dean Stockwell, ‘Quantum Leap’ and ‘Blue Velvet’ Star, Dead at 85

Dean Stockwell, the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated actor best known for the groundbreaking sci-fi shows Quantum Leap and Battlestar Galactica and David Lynch’s noir-fever dream Blue Velvet, has died at age 85. Variety has confirmed the actor’s death.

Stockwell’s career spanned seven decades and began when he was a child. Though he stepped back from acting at various points throughout his career, he was nevertheless prolific, popping up in everything from sci-fi hits and animated shows to TV movies and celebrated indie flicks.

Stockwell was born into a family of performers — his mother, Elizabeth Stockwell, had been a vaudeville player, and his father, Harry Stockwell, was a both a frequent presence on Broadway and had even voiced Prince Charming in Disney’s Snow White. Born in 1936, it was just six years later that Stockwell made his acting debut, a brief appearance in the Broadway show, The Innocent Voyage. Soon after, he signed a contract with MGM and in 1945 he scored his first film roles in The Valley of Decision and Anchors Aweigh; in 1947 he even picked up a Golden Globe for Best Juvenile Actor for his turn in 1947’s Gentleman’s Agreement.

After a brief respite in his teens, Stockwell returned to acting as he entered his 20s in the mid-Fifties. In 1959, he was named Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance in Compulsion, a fictionalized account of the Leopold and Loeb murder trial. Three years later in 1962, he won the same prize at Cannes for his turn in Sidney Lumet’s film adaptation of Eugene O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. 

During the Sixties, Stockwell stepped away from acting and dropped into the burgeoning hippie community located in Topanga Canyon, outside of Los Angeles (he grew particularly close with Neil Young, and the pair would later co-direct the 1982 film, Human Highway). He took another break from acting in the late Seventies and early Eighties, this time getting his real estate license and becoming a broker. 

When Stockwell returned to acting, he embarked on one of the most celebrated periods of his career. In 1984, he co-starred in Wim Wenders’ indie classic Paris, Texas, while the following year he appeared in William Friedkin To Live and Die in L.A. He was in both Blue Velvet and Lynch’s adaptation of Dune, as well as films like Robert Altman’s The Player and Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob, for which he earned an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor.

While Stockwell had picked up scattered TV roles throughout his career, it wasn’t until Quantum Leap debuted in 1989 that he had his first staring role in a series — and on a major hit to boot. In the show, Stockwell played Admiral Al Calavicci, the best friend and partner of Scott Bakula’s time-hopping Dr. Sam Beckett. Quantum Leap ran for five seasons, and Stockwell earned four Emmy nominations for hsi work, as well as one Golden Globe Award. 

Stockwell continued working regularly through the Nineties and 2000s, appearing in blockbusters like Air Force One, serialized TV hits like JAG, and even the occasional animated show like Captain Planet and the Planeteers (he voiced Duke Nukem). He eventually joined another sci-fi hit, the acclaimed reboot of Battlestar Galactica, in which he appeared as the nefarious leader of the Cylons, John Cavil. 

In a 1995 interview with Turner Classic Movies, Stockton was asked what part of his career he was proudest of, and after a brief moment, he replied: “I think, staying power. That I’m still doing it, I’m still able to contribute, create after 52 years.”

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