Gary Kent, a famous B-list actor, director and stuntman, died Thursday at the Onion Creek Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Austin, Texas. He was 89 years old.
Born June 7, 1933 in Walla Walla, Washington, Kent’s early films include 1959’s Battle Flame. He went on to star in several films the following decade, including the 1964 horror film The Thrill Killers, the original Black Klansman in 1966 and the 1968 biker film The Savage Seven.
In 1969, he was Bruce Dern’s stunt double in the psychedelic cult classic Psych-Out, which starred Jack Nicholson and Susan Strasberg. In prep for the movie, Kent went full method and dropped acid. He told the Austin American Statesman in 2018 that the most dangerous stunt ever was on that particular set and no, it wasn’t the drugs.
I had to climb that building and cling by my hands to the edge of that glass dome in that former art museum in Los Angeles, he told the outlet. I had to hang by my hands and swing on that balcony and because of where the camera was, they couldn’t put pads on. I barely did.
Other films for which he performed risque stunts include Hells Angels on Wheels, A Man Called Dagger, The Return of Count Yorga and, most recently, Don Coscarellis’ 2002 film Bubba Ho-Tep. He took his retired from stunt work in 2003 after breaking his leg while shooting.
My first stunt was going down the cellar stairs and I broke my arm, Kent said in the 2018 documentary god of dangerwhich follows his nearly five-decade career.
I rode my trike down the stairs, and the only person around was my sister Patty, and my mom said, You’ve always been like this, this started your stunt career.
Kent came honestly, from childhood to adolescence. He knew his moxie exceeded the norm.
There was a bridge that crossed the Cedar River [in Washington] and there was a pipe railing on both sides that people could hold on to, and in the winter that would freeze, he recalls in the documentary.
It became a big thing, summer and winter: who had the courage to cross the bridge on this pipe? Of course, several people have done it, but I did it when it was frozen.
Acting in a small theater in Corpus Christi, Texas, Kent fell in love with Joyce Peacock. Fresh out of the Naval Air Corps, Kent married her in the same town they met and together they raised three children, Greg, Colleen and Andy. When Kent knew he had to pursue his dreams in Hollywood, he, Joyce and the kids packed up and moved west.
Eager to break into the film industry, Kent spent all day working in a production office and attended small theater groups at night, performing in plays until 1 a.m.
You wouldn’t get paid much, but you’d still get paid, and it was wonderful to get a job, Kent recalled of his early days in show biz.
Although Kent’s ambition ultimately led to the demise of his first marriage, he remained in Los Angeles for 40 years, married and eventually split from The Thrill Killers actress Rosemary Gallegy, who Her name was Laura Benedict.
Much like Brad Pitts’ character Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Kent had a run-in with Charles Manson and his family at the Spahn Movie Ranch. A dune buggy the production was using as a camera car broke down on set and Manson offered to fix it, but demanded a $70 advance. Kent paid, but Manson reneged on his end of the bargain until Kent threatened him.
Charles went under the dune buggy and fixed it right away, Kent said.
According to Joe OConnell, the filmmaker behind Danger God, Quentin Tarantino interviewed Kent while he was working on the screenplay for Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Stuntman and director Hal Needham has also been noted as an inspiration for Booth’s character.
Kent often portrayed thugs, rapists, outlaws and scoundrels in his films, but according to those who worked closely with him, his off-screen persona couldn’t be further from those villainous roles. . OConnell became friends with the stuntman while filming his documentary, and they remained close for years. He told The Times, Gary is the guy guys wanted to date. And women wanted to be close. Even as an old man, he was just awesome. He just radiated a zest for life.
In the 1970s, Kent traveled to Dallas to direct a film, but funding fell through. He decided to stay anyway and went on to write and direct the 1976 drama The Pyramid, which was recently included in the book TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Movies from the World of Cult Classic and Late Night Cinema.
He married late dancer-turned-actress Tomi Barrett, who starred in The Pyramid, in 1977. She succumbed to lung cancer in 2005.
In 2009, Kent released a memoir, Shadows & Light: Journeys With Outlaws in Revolutionary Hollywood, detailing his colorful decades of performing wild, high-risk stunts in cult classics and low-budget gems.
Towards the end of Kent’s life, OConnell visited him frequently at his retirement home in Texas. And on Sunday, Kent asked for puffy Cheetos and a Pepsi. Ahead of the visit, OConnell posted on Facebook asking fans and friends of Kent to leave messages in the comments.
And so I sat down that Sunday and read all the great things people were saying about him, OConnell said. And I think he liked it.
At the end of Danger God, Kent sat down at a desk cluttered with papers and said to the camera: If you want to have a happy life, find something you love and do it until you die.
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