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'Blue Velvet' and 'Quantum Leap' actor Dean Stockwell has died at age 85

Despite leaving the acting business multiple times, Stockwell's career spanned 70 years.
Despite leaving the acting business multiple times, Stockwell's career spanned 70 years.

Actor Dean Stockwell, known for his roles in Quantum Leap and Blue Velvet, has died. He was 85 years old. According to family spokesman Jay D. Schwartz, he died of natural causes at his home in Hollywood, Calif., on Sunday morning.

Born Robert Dean Stockwell, the Academy Award nominee had multiple careers in acting. He started as a child actor. At age 7, he was working alongside Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in Anchors Away. By the time he was 11, he had a star-making role in the 1948 antiwar film The Boy With Green Hair. The movie turned Stockwell into something of a star, and he felt ostracized.

"Wherever I went, I was treated as something different," Stockwell told WHYY's Fresh Air in 1988. "I didn't feel marked for something special. I felt I was being treated as something special then, and I didn't like it and I wanted to get out of it."

After he graduated high school at age 16, Stockwell changed his name and left Hollywood. He eventually found his way back to acting, notably in Sidney Lumet's Long Day's Journey Into Night from 1962, but spent the majority of this stretch of his career in television. By the late '60s, he once again dropped out of acting for a few years. When he returned, he found work hard to get.

Stockwell nearly changed careers altogether in the '80s. He got his real estate license in New Mexico, and ran an ad for himself in Variety. Instead, that led to a string of memorable movie roles in Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas, David Lynch's Dune and Blue Velvet, Robert Altman's The Player and Jonathan Demme's Married to the Mob—the last netting him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Stockwell was perhaps best known for his role as Admiral Al Calavicci on the sci-fi television series Quantum Leap, which ran for five seasons. He'd go on to roles in such shows as The Tony Danza Show, JAG, and the acclaimed 2000s run of Battlestar Galactica. After that he slowed down on acting yet again—this time to focus on his career in visual arts, working mainly with paper collage.

He is survived by his wife, Joy Stockwell, and their two children, Austin Stockwell and Sophie Stockwell.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.