'Billy Jack' Tom Laughlin dies at the age of 82
Self-made movie star brought character to life in several movies
Actor and filmmaker Tom Laughlin was a true self-made man, Working far from the Hollywood system, he would take his mythical character of "Billy Jack," a cowboy-hatted man of few words who would lash out with martial arts moves to quell the bad guys to the suburban multiplexes. The kids loved it, and a cult hero built on social justice and karate seized the post-hippie youth movement. The sequels to the original didn't fare that well - but the Billy Jack character remained iconic. Laughlin has died at the age of 82.
Actor Tom Laughlin sought the Democratic nomination for president three times - 1992, and 2008 as a Democrat, and 2004 as a Republican. He was an outspoken critic of the Iraq War, which he has said was far worse than Vietnam.
Billy Jack's rise to fame began with the 1967 biker film "The Born Losers." Written and directed by Laughlin under the pseudonym T. C. Frank, "Losers" told how his "Billy Jack" character took on a group of outlaws terrorizing a small California town. Crude and low-budget, "Losers" still managed to captivate the drive-in crowds.
Billy Jack, a part-Native American and Vietnam veteran would knock 'em dead in the 1971 feature of the same name. People lined up around the block to see the black-hatted hero dish out justice in a corrupt town. What made the success of the film even more remarkable was the fact that it was independently released and four-walled to theaters. Laughlin had a falling-out with Warner Brothers, and vowed to take his film to audiences all by his lonesome, in the manner of his cinematic character.
The film touched a nerve in an America that valued justice and equality - through the expedient use of guns and violence. Billy Jack would not hesitate to "bust a move" if he failed to persuade his adversaries to his way of thinking.
The third installment in 1974, "The Trial of Billy Jack," was one of the first movies to get a major television and national advertising push. Co-producing and starring in all four "Jack" films, the series came to a close in the little-seen final installment, 1977's "Billy Jack Goes to Washington."
Laughlin sought the Democratic nomination for president three times - 1992, and 2008 as a Democrat, and 2004 as a Republican. He was an outspoken critic of the Iraq War, which he has said was far worse than Vietnam.
"We despise both political parties, really loathe them. . We the people have no representative of any kind. It's now the multinationals. They've taken over. It's no different than the 70's, but it's gotten worse. And if you use words like 'impeachment' or 'fascist' you're a nut on a soapbox," Laughlin said in an interview in 2005.
Starting a Montessori preschool, he had spoken in recent years of trying to bring the Jack character back to the big screen.
Laughlin is survived by three children and five grandchildren.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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