Tom Laughlin, the maverick actor and filmmaker best known for the “Billy Jack” films, has died. He was 82.
Laughlin died Thursday in Thousand Oaks, his family announced.
And I was trying to sit through one of the worst movies ever made, his own The Master Gunfighter on Thursday.
Of course he will be best known for Billy Jack. But he also changed movies forever. He was the first to rent a bunch of theaters to show his movie and to collect all the receipts. He was the first to blitz local TV stations with ads for a movie. These were maverick moves that the mainstream studios came to adopt as well.
He fought and won against a major film studio. He was stubborn, he didn’t take shit, and when we was right he was damn right.
But when he was wrong, he was wrong in a huge way too. Aside from The Master Gunfighter, Billy Jack Goes to Washington is up there as one of the worst movies of all time too. I was frustrated for decades that I couldn’t see that movie, believing he had finally been squished by The Man. The truth turned out to be it was a horribly inept and just plain bad movie. It contained a martial arts scene that not only didn’t fit in the movie, it was also borderline racist — a serious misstep for someone otherwise so sympathetic to minority peoples.
He is now free of this earthly plane, having gone beyond The Fourth Level, to the Fifth.
Rest in peace, finally.