Actor Tom ‘Billy Jack’ Laughlin Dead at 82
Younger movie buffs may have no idea how popular the Billy Jack movies were in the early ’70s but BILLY JACK and THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK were the cool films to see when I was in middle school. The first film in the series was BORN LOSERS in 1967, an above average entry in the biker genre notable for its odd hero Billy Jack, a brave Native American ex-Army Green Beret played by Tom Laughlin who used his karate skills to fight a nefarious motorcycle gang. Laughlin wrote and directed three sequels which costarred his wife Delores Taylor. BILLY JACK was released in 1971, and this time Billy used those same skills to fight racism and oppression. With its themes of child abuse, the trampling of Indian rights, prejudice, television exposes, campus shootings by the National Guard, the Mi Lai massacre, culture clashes, Jungian philosophy, police brutality, government corruption, karate, guns, and spiritual journeys, BILLY JACK and its bloated (170-miunte) 1974 sequel THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK spoke to the Vietnam-era audiences hungry for that kind of stuff and were both monster hits (BILLY JACK cost $800,000 to make and grossed over $65 million). The fourth film in the series, BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON, never received a theatrical release. Laughlin blamed this on the government suppressing his exposure of its corrupt workings, but its more likely the studio simply found it a turgid, overlong, speech-filled mess. Laughlin’s career outside of the Billy Jack films included the lead in an early Robert Altman film THE DELINQUENTS (1957) and the western THE MASTER GUNFIGHTER which he starred in and wrote but was directed by his son Frank in 1975. Laughlin turned to politics after his film career and run for president three times (he never won). Laughlin had been in ill health and died last Thursday at age 82
From the Los Angeles Times:
Tom Laughlin, a filmmaker who drew a huge following for his movies about the ill-tempered, karate-chopping pacifist Billy Jack, died Thursday at a Thousand Oaks hospital. He was 82.He had been in failing health for several years, his daughter Teresa Laughlin said. Laughlin starred in and co-produced the four films of the 1960s and ’70s showcasing Billy Jack, a troubled Vietnam veteran who quietly promotes a message of peace when he’s not throwing bad guys through plate-glass windows. An iconoclast who battled Hollywood studios, Laughlin fought on other fronts as well. Laughlin founded a Montessori school in Santa Monica after he deemed the public schools unworthy of educating his children. When he decided the political system was hopelessly corrupt, he mounted three quixotic presidential campaigns. After becoming disillusioned with Catholicism, he immersed himself in Jungian psychology, writing books and counseling friends………….
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