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R.I.P. Quantum Leap and Battlestar Galactica star Dean Stockwell

The former child actor's expansive career spanned an incredible seven decades

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Dean Stockwell in 1989
Dean Stockwell in 1989
Photo: Catherine McGann (Getty Images)

Longtime actor Dean Stockwell died at his home on Sunday, Variety reports. He was 85, and his career spanned an incredible seven decades.

Stockwell is one of the most successful examples of a child actor who stretched his career for several decades, avoiding the adolescent “awkward period” that plagued so many of his contemporaries as they transitioned into adulthood. He started out in 1940s movie classics like Anchors Aweigh with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, 1947 Best Picture winner Gentlemen’s Agreement, and Song Of The Thin Man, playing the son of glamorous detective couple Nick and Nora Charles. He also played the title role in the anti-racism parable The Boy With The Green Hair.

As Stockwell entered young adulthood, he continued to excel at acting challenges, like playing an adolescent killer in Compulsion, the fictionalized dramatization of the 1924 Leopold and Loeb murder case, with Orson Welles as his lawyer. He also joined the daunting cast of the cinematic version of Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey Into Night, alongside Katharine Hepburn and Jason Robards.

Not all of Stockwell’s roles were so memorable, but what’s noteworthy is how many of them there were; his IMDB page lists over 200 credits. He worked steadily throughout the ’60s and ’70s, with guest star appearances on shows from Wagon Train, Dr. Kildare, Cannon, and Mission: Impossible (he appeared in both the 1950 and 1980 version of The Twilight Zone). He dropped out of show business for a short while to hang out with pals like Dennis Hopper and Neil Young in California’s hippie culture. During this time, Stockwell wrote a never-produced screenplay called After The Gold Rush; reportedly after reading it, Young was inspired to write the song and album of the same name. Stockwell also designed the distinctive cover of Young’s 1977 album American Stars ‘N Bars.

The ’80s brought Stockwell back to some memorable film roles: In Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas; as Doctor Wellington Yueh in Dune; and in David Lynch’s breakthrough film Blue Velvet. Stockwell rode that momentum to his only Oscar nomination, as mobster Tony “Tiger” Russo in Jonathan Demme’s Married To The Mob (typical of Stockwell’s impressive work ethic, he appeared in a Murder, She Wrote episode the same year).

That Oscar nomination was followed by perhaps Stockwell’s most memorable role: Admiral Al Calavicci in the beloved sci-fi series Quantum Leap. The cigar-smoking hologram Al helped lead “leaper” Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) through his various time-traveling missions. Although Hopper advised him against taking the role, Stockwell was nominated for four Emmys, and four Golden Globes, winning once. His many QL fans helped push for his resulting star on Hollywood Boulevard, which appropriately happened on Leap Day, 1992. Stockwell and Bakula eventually reunited in a 2002 episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.

After QL, Stockwell returned to the guest-star circuit (with a recurring role as Senator Edward Sheffield on JAG), until his next career highpoint, which was also in the sci-fi realm: Battlestar Galactica. He played John Cavil, who had the distinction of being Number One in the line of 12 human-resembling Cylon models, resulting in Stockwell playing multiple versions of the same character.


Stockwell was married twice, to The Diary Of Anne Frank actress Millie Perkins from 1960 to 1962, and Joy Marchenko, from 1981 to 2004, which whom he had two children. Both marriages ended in divorce.

After Galactica ended in 2009, Stockwell’s TV and film appearances slowed somewhat; one of his final roles was in a 2014 episode of NCIS—almost 70 years after his film debut in 1945.