Very rarely does a figure in American culture come along who can unite multiple generations with a simple wry grin and tip of their Stetson, and an immeasurable amount of charisma.
Then again, Harry Dean Stanton is a rarity in Americana culture. With work on screen, on record and a presence seemingly ingrained in the very fibers of our collective 20th century knowledge, Stanton has become much more than an archetype, he has become the mold for the multi-faceted American entertainer for 90 years.
The actor received the first annual Harry Dean Stanton award this Sunday at the Theater At The Ace Hotel, the first of many awards to come from the Santa Monica-based film institution, Vidiots.
“I really don’t know what to say,” said Stanton upon receiving his award. “This is the best night of my life. Just breathe and smile.”
Hosted by Ed Begley, Jr. the night was filled with tributes regarding Stanton’s work from Angelica Huston and Griffin Dune and featured music from the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Karen O., Father John Misty, John C. Reilly, Inara George, Harper Simon, and John Densmore.
The musical lineup for the evening reflected the American West façade that Stanton has often displayed in whatever role he inhabits, with roots and Americana music as well as presenters who have played compatriots and cowpokes alongside Stanton throughout his career.
“You know, character actors are what they call people like me and Harry,” said Reilly after serenading the audience with a Kentucky-themed song for Stanton. “You’re not quite a leading man, you’re not a woman, you’re a character actor.”
Indeed, Stanton’s presence as a character actor and unique sense of storytelling brought out many characters themselves, including Jakob Dylan, Johnny Depp and David Lynch, who presented Stanton with his award for a lifetime of performances on screen and off screen.
Stanton was met with speeches and stories from his fellow actors who paid tribute to him as a figure of immense acting prowess and support in their endeavors as young actors.
“I was nervous and called Harry to ask him what to say tonight,” said Rebecca De Mornay who met Stanton on Coppola’s One From The Heart. “He told me, ‘Just tell everyone that we’re soul mates’.”
Upon accepting his award, Stanton then joined Kristofferson, Depp and Simon on stage alongside Mariachi Del Vegas to play harmonica and lend his vocals to the Fred Neil’s classic “Everybody’s Talkin’ ” and Kristofferson’s own “Help Me Make It Through The Night.”
“Harry has the type of voice that can bring tears to your eyes,” said Lynch while initiating Stanton as the first annual recipient of the award.
Outside of Stanton and Kristofferson, one of the most valuable performers of the night was Father John Misty (nee Josh Tillman) who performed Tom Waits’ “This One’s From The Heart” with Inara George and The Doors’ “Moonlight Drive” with Densmore in honor of Two Lane Blacktop.
Alongside Densmore, Tillman ripped through “Moonlight,” thrashing about the stage and truly challenging Morrison’s own performance and providing a perfectly anachronistic scream that rivaled that of the Doors frontman himself.
In an evening of unique and interesting characters who have been affected by Stanton in their lives, one was reminded of their own experience finding Stanton for the first time, perhaps in the theater or at home on VHS.
In any sense, it seemed entirely natural to have so many individuals from different branches of Hollywood come together to honor an unforgettable actor who can’t seem to help but embody himself so perfectly.