Robert Dean Stockwell, a former Taos resident who starred in numerous films throughout his career, died of natural causes on Nov. 7, according to his wife, Joy Marchenko. He was 85.
Stockwell was born on March 5, 1936, in North Hollywood, and spent his childhood in both Los Angeles, and New York City.
Stockwell was the younger son of Elizabeth "Betty" and Harry Stockwell, an actor and lyric baritone singer in New York productions of “Carousel” and “Oklahoma!” as well as the voice of Prince Charming in Disney's animated film “Snow White.” His elder brother was television and film actor Guy Stockwell. His stepmother, Nina Olivette, was an actress, comedian, singer, and toe dancer in burlesque and theater in North America and New York.
Stockwell's father was appearing on Broadway in “Oklahoma!,” when he heard about a play, “Innocent Voyage” by Paul Osborne, that was looking for child actors. As a result, Stockwell's mother took her two sons down to audition. Both boys were successful. Stockwell's part was small and the play only had a short run, but it led to a contract with MGM.
After appearing in “The Valley of Indecision” in 1945, his career as a child actor took off, but Stockwell found the experience of being a child actor difficult, once noting, "I didn't enjoy acting particularly, when I was young. I thought it was a lot of work. 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 kinds of roles and I didn't care for them very much."
Other studios began using him in their productions and he barely had time for himself.
In 1951 he appeared in a lead role alongside Joel McCrea in a Western at Universal, “Cattle Drive."
Stockwell graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, and attended the University of California, Berkeley, for a year before dropping out. During his time at Berkeley, Stockwell immersed himself in music and wrote several small compositions.
Stockwell took a number of years off and resumed his acting career as an adult in 1956. He guest-starred on several shows and in 1957, he starred as Judd Steiner in the Broadway adaptation of “Compulsion,” based on the Leopold and Loeb story. He later reprised his role in the 1959 film version. He and his “Compulsion” co-stars Orson Welles and Bradford Dillman shared the 1959 Cannes Film Award for Best Actor.
Stockwell married actress Millie Perkins on April 15, 1960, but the marriage ended in divorce two years later. Stockwell meanwhile, kept busy working in both film and television.
In the mid-1960s, Stockwell dropped out of the entertainment business, lured into the Topanga Canyon hippie culture by close friends, including artists George Herms and Wallace Berman, fellow child actor and "dropout" Russ Tamblyn and musician Neil Young (during the mid-1970s, he designed the cover of Young's “American Stars 'n Bars” album (1976). "I did some drugs and went to some love-ins," he later said. "The experience of those days provided me with a huge, panoramic view of my existence that I didn't have before. I have no regrets."
A little known but interesting bit of trivia is that his photograph of fellow assemblage/collage artist, Wallace Berman is included on the cover of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. That makes two Taos residents on that iconic cover, The other is artist, Larry Bell.
About the movie, “Human Highway,” he recalled “We made that movie without a script,” in an interview with me in 2015.
Dennis Hopper had encouraged the screenplay that inspired “After The Gold Rush” and rumour has it when Hopper was looking for a ranch to buy after making “Easy Rider,” it was Stockwell who suggested he look in Taos.
Stockwell returned to acting with a supporting role in “Psych-Out” (1968) co-starring Susan Strasberg and Jack Nicholson.
He continued to guest star on TV shows and would appear in the occasional feature.
In December of 1981, Stockwell married his second wife, Joy Marchenko, a textile expert and collector, who was at the time, based in Morocco. The following year, Stockwell and Neil Young together directed and appeared in “Human Highway” (1982).
By this time Stockwell had moved to Taos, New Mexico, and was depressed about the state of his career, turning to real estate to pay the bills. On November 5, 1983, his wife gave birth to their son, Austin.
As fate would have it, his career soon hit a new trajectory. In 1984, he appeared in Wim Wenders's critically acclaimed film “Paris, Texas,” and in the same year, in David Lynch's film version of “Dune.” Stockwell later said "After ‘Paris, Texas’ and ‘Dune,’ I think I've got a pretty good start on what amounts to a third career."
Stockwell's second child with wife Marchenko, Sophie, was born on August 5, 1985.
In 1986, Stockwell made an appearance in another Lynch production, the neo-noir thriller “Blue Velvet.”
In 1988, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Mafia boss Tony "the Tiger" Russo in the comedy “Married to the Mob.”
In 1989 Stockwell appeared as second lead in the show “Quantum Leap,” which ended up running for five seasons.
He continued working steadily through the 90s, and into the new millennium.
Also a visual artist, Stockwell had shows of his collage and sculpture in Taos, where he was a familiar face for many years, frequenting his favorite restaurants and cigar shops.
In January 2016 he suffered a stroke at his home in Taos and after his recovery, he retired from acting, and moved to be with his family.
"He didn't suffer at all," his wife, Joy, said of her husband's death. He is also survived by their children, Austin and Sophie Stockwell.