R.I.P. Actor, Writer, Director Tom Laughlin

Tom Laughlin, star of ‘Billy Jack’ films, dies at age 82

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.

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He is now free of this earthly plane, having gone beyond The Fourth Level, to the Fifth.

Rest in peace, finally.

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3 Comments

Filed under R.I.P.

3 responses to “R.I.P. Actor, Writer, Director Tom Laughlin

  1. You wrote about the Billy Jack movies a couple of weeks ago, and it made me think about some things…I am sorry he is gone. RIP. Thanks, Mike.

  2. I’ll never forget going to the theater in the small town where I was attending college, with my best friend, to see “The Trial of Billy Jack”. (Some years later I got to see the eponymous previous flick in this series, but I’ve never seen the first or fourth). Your panning of the fourth of the Billy Jack series reminds me of how the earlier once were panned by pretty much all movie critics. I had problems with the two I saw, too. Most especially with how “Trial” climaxed with a blatant re-creation of the protest and shootings at Kent State. But I sure did like the awesome Southwestern desert outdoors shots, and found Billy Jack himself to be a fascinating character as he struggled with taming and pacifying his violent temper. They say Billy Jack was the first of the vigilante loners protecting those who cannot protect themselves (Rambo and the “Death Wish” guy being among later incarnations). However, Billy Jack appeals to me as the later ones do not. RIP, Billy Jack/Tom Laughlin!

    • mikecane

      The Kent State-like ending of Trial was intentional. The movie was a product of its time. I’ve seen them all. None of them are flawless, but the first three are interesting. Billy Jack in Washington, unfortunately, isn’t even that.

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