NEW YORK, NY.-
Dean Stockwell, who began his seven-decade acting career as a child in the 1940s and later starred as the cigar-smoking Al Calavicci in the science fiction TV series Quantum Leap, died Sunday at his home. He was 85.
His death was confirmed by Jay Schwartz, a family spokesman, who did not specify a cause.
Stockwell was known early in his career for his turns alongside the biggest stars of the age, and he eventually became a dependable Hollywood mainstay who lent gravitas to series like JAG and Battlestar Galactica. He earned more than 200 film and television credits as an actor from 1945 to 2015.
But he lost interest several times in the profession he had been all but born into, escaping to work on railroads and in real estate, and, in the 1960s, to immerse himself in the hippie movement. He also enjoyed several career revivals, notably in the 1980s, when he was cast in some of his career-defining roles, including in Paris, Texas, Dune, Blue Velvet and Married to the Mob.
As the son of a famous actor his father, Harry Stockwell, voiced Prince Charming in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs he had little semblance of a typical childhood before he began acting, first appearing on Broadway in 1943, at age 7, in Innocent Voyage. A talent scout recruited him to appear in Hollywood movies starting in 1945, when he acted alongside Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh.
He was immediately praised for his skill, winning a special award at the Golden Globes for Gentlemans Agreement in 1947. In 1950, The New York Times said he was delightfully sturdy and sound in Kim, adding that little Dean shows a real tenderness. Other Times reviews of his child performances said his work was touching, commendable and cozy.
Robert Dean Stockwell was born in Los Angeles on March 5, 1936. His parents divorced when he was 6, and he spent most of his childhood with his mother, a vaudeville comedian, and his brother, also an actor. Stockwell would later say that he looked up to directors and leading actors on set as father figures.
He would appear in 19 films before he turned 16, at which point he quit acting for the first time. He was withdrawn as a child and took little pleasure in acting, seeing it as an obligation foisted upon him by others, he said in an interview with Turner Classic Movies in 1995.
If it had been up to me, I would have been out of it by the time I was 10, he said.
After graduating from high school at 16 as a child actor, he received three hours of schooling while working he realized he had little training to do anything else. He flitted from one odd job to the next before reluctantly returning to acting in 1956, when he was 20.
In the 1960s, he found comfort in the counterculture movement and hippie ethos.
My career was doing well, but I wasnt getting anything out of it personally, he told the Times in 1988. What I was looking for I was finding in another place, which was in that revolution. The 60s allowed me to live my childhood as an adult. That kind of freedom, imagination and creativity that arose all around was like a childhood to me.
After a few years off, he returned to acting only to learn that his time away had led Hollywood casting agents to forget him. For about a dozen frustrating years, he struggled to land roles, appearing in fringe films and performing in dinner theater.
I even heard about a casting meeting where the producer said, We need a Dean Stockwell type, he told the Times in 1988. Meanwhile, I couldnt even get arrested.
In the early 1980s, he quit acting again, moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to sell real estate. His next comeback would be his most successful, beginning a decade of his most critically acclaimed work.
In 1988, he was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for Married to the Mob. The next year, he was cast in Quantum Leap, starring opposite Scott Bakula as Sam Beckett, a scientist who, because of a botched time-travel experiment, spends his days and nights being thrown back in time to assume other peoples identities.
Reviewing the series for the Times in 1989, John J. OConnor described Stockwell as Mr. Bakulas indispensable co-star. Clutching a cigar and sporting a wardrobe of odd punk-western outfits, Stockwell portrayed Adm. Al Calavicci, Sams wiseguy colleague, who hangs around the edges of each episode, setting the scene and commenting on the action, OConnor wrote.
Stockwell was nominated four times for an Emmy Award for best supporting actor in a drama series for his work on Quantum Leap, which ran for five seasons on NBC.
He is survived by his wife, Joy Stockwell, and two children, Austin Stockwell and Sophie Stockwell.
He said in a 1987 interview with the Times that his approach as an actor had not changed since he was a child.
I havent changed in the least, he said. My way of working is still the same as it was in the beginning: totally intuitive and instinctive. But as you live your life, you compile so many millions of experiences and bits of information that you become a richer vessel as a person. You draw on more experience.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times