Born: March 5, 1936;

Died: November 7, 2021.

DEAN Stockwell’s most enduring role was as a sometime hazy hologram in the US sci-fi series, Quantum Leap, in which he played a cigar-smoking space admiral with a dodgy handset connection to his time-travelling friend.

The series ran for 14 years. Audiences loved Stockwell’s pairing as Rear Admiral Albert “Al” Calavicci with Scott Bakula’s Dr Sam Beckett, as the duo contrived to correct historical injustices. Stockwell, who has died, aged 85, picked up a Golden Globe, in 1990, and four Emmy nominations for his wise-cracking role.

Though he excelled as a hologram there was nothing one-dimensional about his acting range. “He’s such a chameleon. He has such mercurial presence”, director Jonathan Demme marvelled of Stockwell’s performance in the 1988 comedy, Married to the Mob, in which he starred alongside Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Modine and Alec Baldwin.

His portrayal of gangster Tony “The Tiger” Russo won Stockwell an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor – an accolade that came as no surprise to those who had appreciated his quirky and nuanced range over the years. His many other films over a seven-decade-long career included David Lynch’s neo-noir classic, Blue Velvet (1986), in which Stockwell enigmatically lip-synced to the Roy Orbison hit, In Dreams.

It was a reminder that, as one leading US newspaper put it, Stockwell had turned from a cherubic child actor into a “dark, intense, charismatic leading man”.

His many other films included Wim Wenders’s Paris, Texas (1984), Lynch’s Dune (1984), William Friedkin’s To Live and Die in LA (1985), Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: The Man and his Dream (1988, playing Howard Hughes), Robert Altman’s black comedy, The Player (1992) and Coppola’s The Rainmaker (1997).

Earlier in his career he had been in an acclaimed 1960 adaptation of DH Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, alongside Trevor Howard, Wendy Hiller and Glasgow-born Mary Ure, and in Sidney Lumet’s 1962 adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play, Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

He was a friend of the rock singer, Neil Young, and the two collaborated on Young’s somewhat ramshackle film, Human Highway. Stockwell had earlier written a “Jungian self-discovery” film, After the Gold Rush; it was never made, but Young wrote several songs for it, including After the Gold Rush, one of his earliest classic songs.

Stockwell designed the cover of Young’s album, American Stars ’n’ Bars, while his photograph of the artist Wallace Berman even appeared on the cover of The Beatles’ landmark album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Dean Stockwell’s father, Harry, had been a Hollywood actor and his mother, Betty, a vaudeville performer. At six, he was talent-spotted in a play and he first appeared before a camera at the age of seven.

“I didn’t enjoy acting particularly when I was young,” he recalled. “I thought it was a lot of work. There were a few films that I enjoyed, they were comedies, but they were not very successful, so I was always pretty much known as a serious kid. The first question that I would always ask my mother when she brought news of a new script was, ‘Is there a crying scene in the movie?’ And there almost always was.”

The business of acting meant that Stockwell – whose brother, Guy, also became an actor – didn’t develop many friendships. To add to his personal stress, his parents divorced. He recalls only having one holiday in nine years. “It was a miserable way to bring up a child, though neither my parents nor I recognised it at the time.”

His earliest films included the Greer Garson-Gregory Peck drama, The Valley of Decision, and Anchors Aweigh, starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly. Both were made in 1945, when he was nine.

At 12, he played the title role in an anti-racism parable, The Boy With Green Hair. “During the production, I did feel that I was part of something that meant something to me, it was important”, he recalled. He also appeared alongside Errol Flynn in the 1950 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. Stockwell walked away from acting and into university, but at length was drawn back. At 23, he landed the lead role in Compulsion, a 1959 crime film based on the notorious Leopold and Loeb murder case, appearing alongside Orson Welles and Bradford Dillman. They all shared the best actor award at Cannes.

In 1960, Stockwell married actor Millie Perkins. The marriage lasted only two years. But his acting success continued at Cannes again in 1962 with Long Day’s Journey into Night. In 1971, Stockwell played Billy the Kid in Dennis Hopper’s controversial and experimental The Last Movie.

Soon afterwards, the actor again dropped out of Hollywood, this time to become a hippy. “I did some drugs and went to some love-ins. The experience of those days provided me with a huge, panoramic view of my existence that I didn’t have before. I have no regrets.”

He tried to return to regular acting work but, in the Seventies, found himself reduced to selling real estate. Thanks to David Lynch, he landed a small role in Dune, which led to a major part in Blue Velvet. During this time Stockwell married again, this time to Joy Marchenko, from 1981 until 2004. They had two children together.

Acting success continued in a series of indie roles. Stockwell was regarded as the supporting or character actor who could bring real weight to films that featured the lives of outsiders, such as Paris, Texas.

He embraced his quirkiness and offered an enigmatic explanation as to his success. “In my work, I’m dealing with something that is essentially mysterious, and I prefer and am inclined to deal with it in a mysterious way.”

Regardless, or perhaps because of his unusual and often captivating performances, Hollywood considered this natural outsider to be box-office, someone who could also succeed in the standard roles. He was certainly a stand-out in the TV series Battlestar Galactica.

Perhaps Stockwell’s natural reluctance to fit in served him well, giving him the distance he needed to bring something quite magical to each of his roles.

He is survived by his two children, Sophia and Austin.