Auteur film director/actor and presidential candidate Tom Laughlin is dead. He was 82. Laughlin is best known for for his film Billy Jack in which he utters the classic line:
before beating the crap out of racist bullies. Billy Jack was one the first movies to introduce martial arts to a mainstream American movie audience, and stressed both pacifism and vigilante justice, as Vietnam War vet Billy Jack protects the alternative Freedom School and its students from the uptight town run by a corrupt rich guy whose spoiled son gets what he deserves for picking on the Freedom School kids.
Laughlin wrote, produced and directed all four of the Billy Jack canon: Born Losers introduced the character of half-Native American Vietnam War vet, Billy Jack; the seminal Billy Jack; followed byThe Trial of Billy Jack which helped shape the future of film distribution–the groundbreaking promotion and release campaign included TV trailers during national news and an nationwide opening day; and 1977′s limping series finale, Billy Jack Goes to Washington. After the latter film, life began to imitate art; Laughlin would ran for United States President in 1992, 2004, and 2008.
Billy Jack was the first movie I saw for which I lied about my age to get in the theater. I saw it after Laughlin, unhappy with the way Warner Bros.marketed the film, sued for the rights and re-released it, airing commercials on TV. You had to be 13 to get in, or have an adult with you. Luckily I was tall and/or the ticket person didn’t care. It was a pretty grownup movie, with political themes, female frontal nudity, violence, and rape. I also bought the paperback which was actually the shooting script with photos from the movie. It gave a my first look at how movies were made.
Married for 60 years to his Billy Jack series co-star Delores Taylor, Laughlin also played
Moondoggie Loverboy in the original Gidget movie, and founded Santa Monica’s first Montessori preschool. He is survived by Taylor and their children Frank, Teresa and Christina, his five grandchildren, and his sister Joan.