Moderation Wins As Harry Dean Stanton Is Honored By Hollywood Legends

By John Lavitt 10/26/16

The 90-year-old actor and moderate drinker was recently honored for his acting achievements.

Moderation Wins As Harry Dean Stanton Is Honored By Hollywood Legends
David Lynch Presents Harry Dean Stanton With The Harry Dean Stanton Award Photographer: Kim Gottlieb-Walker

The Vidiots Foundation celebrated the talent, moderation and lasting power of Hollywood acting legend Harry Dean Stanton with his very own award. The first annual Harry Dean Stanton Award was given to the man himself in a rousing celebration at the Theater at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday night. The event was designed to help support the Vidiots Foundation fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to preserve video store culture and independent film for the next era. 

Once a hardcore partier, Harry found a spiritual balance in his life and has gone on to make close to 200 films and shows, including his latest parts in David Lynch’s new version of Twin Peaks. Ninety years old and still drinking on a regular basis, Harry is a living milestone to the possibility of moderation as a strategy. While many people from Harry’s generation drank until they destroyed themselves, by finding a path of moderation, Harry was able to maintain a prolific acting career. He recently acted with David Lynch in the upcoming film Lucky, in which Harry plays the title character in a story written just for him. Lynch was on hand to happily present him with the Harry Dean Stanton Award. 

Johnny Depp, Kris Kristofferson and Harry Dean Stanton rocking out. Photographer: Kim Gottlieb-Walker

The Fix spoke to the show's host actor and humanitarian Ed Begley, Jr., before the curtains rose, asking, “What do you think of Harry as an actor and as a person?” Sober for many years, Ed smiled when he thought about the wild days spent with Harry drinking at the classic watering holes on the edge of Beverly Hills like Dan Tana’s and the Troubadour. He recalled, “I met Harry in 1972, and was certainly aware of his work as an actor, but was quickly captivated by his interest and expertise in meditation and higher consciousness. He introduced me to Alan Watts, Krishnamurti and the Daily Crossword. All of which have become a major source of joy and serenity in my life ... as has Harry.”

For a long time, Harry pushed the edges, but he survived and continued to work. In an interview earlier this year, Harry said, "I snorted heroin three times. Years ago. The third time it really took hold and I understood the song. 'Everybody’s talkin’ at me/I don’t hear a word they’re saying/Only the echoes in my mind'… Somebody told him (Alan Watts) once that on heroin you get to an enlightened state, he said, 'Yeah, but when you get the message, you hang up the phone.' So I hung up on that one."

During the show, actors and musicians paid tribute to Harry. Anjelica Huston recalled a “mountain of memories” during the years when Harry was practically living with her and Jack Nicholson. She explained how Harry often put perspective on the dark nights of the soul by embracing the music of the spirit. The love and respect flowed in the music as actor John C. Reilly paid tribute to Harry’s boyhood in Kentucky and drummer John Densmore from The Doors played “Moonlight Drive,” featured in Harry’s classic film Two-Lane Blacktop, with Father John Misty doing Jim Morrison’s vocals. 

Fueled by his spirituality that by being nothing, we have the freedom to be ourselves, a feeling of peace was present throughout the venue as Harry quoted Prospero from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

“Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.”

Harry then smiled and said, “I don’t know what else to say, except that Bette Davis was right: Getting old is not for sissies. Personally, I always like what Shakespeare said better: Yes, it’s all but a dream, a tale told by a Vidiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Even so, this night is the happiest of my life, and I thank you all.”

To close out an amazing and eclectic show, backed by surprise guest Johnny Depp and the amazing Kris Kristofferson, Harry sang a moving version of Harry Nilsson’s "Everybody’s Talkin’," the song that spiritually guided him away from the potential path of destructive drinking and drug use, and into a life of moderation. 

Continuing to do great work into his nineties, Harry is truly a man to celebrate. Yes, he still drinks here and there, but moderation won the day for the man, leading to success and serenity.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.