June 10, 2023

Gary Kent, an actor, director and, most notably, stuntman whose career is thought to have been an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, died Thursday at an assisted care facility in Austin, Texas. He was 89.

Born on June 7, 1933, in Walla Walla, Washington, Kent’s early film credits include 1959’s Battle Flame, and roles in other low-budget films of the 1960s including The Black Klansman (1966) and biker film The Savage Seven (1968). In 1969, he served as a stunt double for Bruce Dern in the now-cult-classic Richard Rush-directed exploitation film Psych-Out.

Among his other credits were such drive-in movie favorites as Peter Bogdanovich’s first film Targets (1968), featuring Boris Karloff, 1970’s Hell’s Bloody Devils and, the following year, The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant and Angels’ Wild Women.

Though he had numerous small acting parts through the era, his most endurable contributions to Hollywood would come as a stuntman from the 1960s through the 1990s, with his work adding action to TV shows (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Green Hornet, Daniel Boone) and feature films (Hells Angels On Wheels, The Return of Count Yorga, Freebie and the Bean, Color of Night and Bubba Ho-Tep).

According to Joe O’Connell’s 2018 biographical documentary Danger God, Tarantino drew upon Kent’s life and career in the creation of the Cliff Booth stuntman character portrayed by Brad Pitt in 2019’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. While stuntman and director Hal Needham was also an important inspiration, there’s particular overlap between Kent and Booth in their crossing paths with The Green Hornet‘s Bruce Lee and, perhaps even more striking, Kent’s encounters with the Charles Manson Family during late-1960s film shoots at the Spahn Ranch.

In 1976, Kent wrote and directed The Pyramid, which recently was included in the book TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Films From the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema. Kent’s own book, the memoir Shadows & Light: Journeys With Outlaws in Revolutionary Hollywood, was published in 2009.

Kent is survived by six children and four grandchildren. According to the Austin Chronicle, his family will abide by his wishes and scatter his ashes in the Pacific Ocean.

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