Tom Laughlin
1931 - 2013
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NEW YORK (AP) — Actor-writer-director Tom Laughlin, whose production and marketing of "Billy Jack" set a standard for breaking the rules on and off screen, has died.

Laughlin's daughter told The Associated Press that he died Thursday at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Laughlin was 82 and Teresa Laughlin, who acted in the Billy Jack movies, said the cause of death was complications from pneumonia.

"Billy Jack" was released in 1971 after a long struggle by Laughlin to gain control of the low-budget, self-financed movie, a model for guerrilla filmmaking.

He wrote, directed and produced "Billy Jack" and starred as the ex-Green Beret who defends a progressive school against the racists of a conservative Western community. The film became a counterculture favorite and the theme song, "One Tin Soldier," was a hit single for the rock group Coven.

Laughlin was in his mid-30s when he created Billy Jack with his wife and collaborator, Delores Taylor. Billy Jack was half-white, half Native American, a Vietnam veteran and practitioner of martial arts who had come to hate war. Billy Jack was first seen in the 1968 biker movie "Born Losers," but became widely known after "Billy Jack," the second of four films Laughlin made about him (only three made it to theaters).

"Billy Jack" was completed in 1969, but its release was delayed for two years as Laughlin struggled to find studio backing. He eventually successfully sued Warner Bros. to retain rights and — with no support from Hollywood or from theater chains — Laughlin made a radical decision: Distribute the movie himself and rent theaters to show it in. He also was among the first to advertise on television and to immediately open a movie nationwide, rather than release it gradually.

"Billy Jack" initially flopped at the box office, but generated an underground following and became a substantial commercial success and inspiration to independent filmmakers. The title character has been cited as a forerunner for such screen avengers as Rambo.

Laughlin was born in 1931 and grew up in Milwaukee. He played football for the University of South Dakota (where he met his future wife) and Marquette University, but decided he wanted to become an actor after seeing a stage production of "A Streetcar Named Desire."

"He was profoundly affected by the poverty he saw on the Indian reservations near the University of South Dakota," Teresa Laughlin said. "I think the seeds of the Billy Jack character started there."

His early film credits included "South Pacific," ''Gidget" and Robert Altman's "The Delinquents." Laughlin also was interested in directing and writing and by 1960 had directed, written and starred in "The Young Sinner."

Laughlin wasn't only a filmmaker. He ran for president as both a Republican and Democrat and founded a Montessori school in California. He was an opponent of nuclear energy and a longtime advocate for Native Americans and bonded with another actor-activist, Marlon Brando.

In recent years, he wrote books and attempted to make another Billy Jack movie.

"There had been lots of interest and deals would sort of come together and not happen," said Teresa Laughlin, who noted that her father had also battled cancer. "One of the prime reasons that he couldn't get a deal was his failing health and, I think, his inability to come to terms with that. In his mind's eye, he remained Billy Jack."

He is survived by his wife, a sister, three children and five grandchildren.

BY HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer


Copyright © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Published in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Dec. 15, 2013.
Memories & Condolences
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50 entries
May 24, 2020
RIP Mr. Laughlin ✝.
I enjoyed your Billy Jack movies me and my family. To us you were the American Bruce Lee. That era in (early 1970s) USA at that time brings back memories of that time that is further and further getting further away. But those movies brings that spark back when I begin to forget that era and good memories are
re-remembered. Lol, me and family would try to do your moves in plain old fun when we were playing outside or in the house. Thanks for your work in film and your contribution to American cinema. And thank you for taking up for the underprivileged in society and fighting for poor people, by your activist work.
My condolences to the Laughlin family for your loss.
Your fan Joe D.
American Armed Forces
Joe DeHoyos
January 24, 2020
Brought truth, and justice to light...Thank you....
AJ Reges
January 20, 2020
The man brought out the understanding of men and women that had served during the Vietnam War and made it quite clear that the rumors surrounding these forgotten individuals and the price they had to pay and the complicated issues the veterans had to face from a very unsympathetic public upon their return, considering in all of the misunderstandings and untruths they faced on a daily basis. The only movie that ever came close to the civilian side of the general publics view was Easy Rider. Condolences to the family and to know we've all lost a voice when we lost this great man.
B.K. Sonny Tassone U.S.M.C.
Acquaintance
December 29, 2019
Sorry he passed loved his movies he will be missed
Steven Settanni
Significant_other
August 28, 2019
Your stories inspire the best in those who see or read them, thank you, may you long be remembered.
James Aikin
April 18, 2019
One Tin Soldier made a difference!
December 3, 2018
Rip and never forgotten
Lou Baruta
November 17, 2018
Sad to say, I didn't realize you had passed away back in 2013. Thank you for the inspiration messages in your films. They've meant a lot to me.
Andy Ritter
November 15, 2018
A great actor who portrayed the role of Billy Jack to perfection.
Carolyn Wozniak
Friend
September 29, 2018
I enjoyed the movies. They showed respect of all people and their worth. The message came in loud and clear. Thanks
Steve B.
September 2, 2018
I've been a big fan of billyjack he has shown me how to be fair yet compassionate. Yet to fight for what's right thank you sir rip Billy and delores
Douglas Calhoun
July 18, 2018
You were my first hero when I was a teenager. Your love for the native cause and treatment touched my heart. I named my son after Billy Jack and tryed to teach him some of the same Billy Jack ideas. Rest in peace. You made a difference.
Judy Grills
February 14, 2018
Billy Jack was such an inspirational movie, I first saw it as a teenager I am now almost 64 and have just bought the Billy Jack dvd set so I can watch them all again!!

The Martial Arts was excellent as well. I first saw a martial arts movie where the opponents all wore the karate uniforms. So different is Billy Jack..... denims and that "never to be forgotten" hat!.

Mike Lee
Western Australia
Mike Lee
November 12, 2017
Mr Laughlin you were my hero in my teens and Billy Jack was my inspiration you are and forever will be greatly missed. One Tin Soldier rides away....
Val Blair
August 9, 2017
Mr Tom LAUGHLIN, My name is lisa Edwards you were my forever Hero in the movie Billy Jack and The Trial Of Billy Jack. If you were to become President of the United states I would of voted for you. I am a Democrate I will always miss and Love you Happy 83 birthday 2017. God bless you for all you did while you were on this earth. Sincerly Lisa Edwards.
Lisa Edwards
November 9, 2016
Valenda Newell
September 25, 2016
Tom,You were a great Inspiration of how a man should come to that plateau In life,in that everyday was a learning experience. You were an encourager to others,as you were to me,although you may not have fully known the many lives you touched by just being an mentor,though,once again not even being aware of just the Impact you,whether It be by your movies,or the advice given,you've really made a lasting mark in this world,and for that you'll be lovingly remembered. So,for now,prayers that the Holy Spirit give Delores,Teresa,and rest of the family comfort,at this time,as well as all friend,and fans,whom I'm grateful to be,as well. God Bless.
Johnny Harjo
November 10, 2015
Don, left, Dick, right,Wahington HS, 1953
Rest in Peace, Tom,
you were a mentoring football player to us during a summer before the 1953 Purgolder football season in scrub pickup workouts at Sherman Park. You always remained with me as you became Billy Jack. love

Richard (Ole) Olsen
Richard Olsen
February 12, 2015
to the family of Billy Jack thank you for allowing him to do this movie it was a great part of my growing up I will always remember it
Larry Nead
December 11, 2014
Rest in Peace Tom. Your Movie Billy Jack was an Important Part of My Childhood.. Thank You....
Michael Sheehan
October 17, 2014
what a great actor,man and friend to our family...even tho we did not get to meet your the reason why my grandkids parents met,,,,you were such a great person to introduce Jim McDonald to Paula McDonald... and i married their son....now i have 11 grandkids......what more could i ask for, i received a personal gift from a man i never met,yet adored as an actor and a man of grace....may God bless your family,friends and fans...your one of a kind and very missed.Thank you....may your loving gifts live on forever
Terri Hughes
May 22, 2014
i learned how a real man should act from you, so i knew what to look for in a husband, thank you, miss you, love to delores
Kathryn Vincent
April 23, 2014
I am just devastated!!! I didn't know Tom had passed until just now. I am heart broken, sick to my stomach. He and his movies have meant the world too me. As a kid growing up in abuse, well his movies made me feel better. Just wish I had been able to tell him he saved my life.
April 13, 2014
R.I.P Tom,You will always be remembered as Billy Jack The great high kicker. Thanks for the good times.
Rex Mcquire
April 9, 2014
Always remember the great actor.i light a candle every year.
debora Elaine scoggins
April 9, 2014
He was mu favorite actor.i have all his movies.i really cried ,when he died because he was great.i give my condolences to his wife and children..it was a great lost and miss him alot
debora Elaine scoggins scoggins
April 1, 2014
Thank you, Mr. Laughlin, for enjoying the T-shirts I made for our meeting the chatroom had in L.A.
T.J.
Ms. Deloris,
I am so sorry for your loss.
Tami Sarmento
April 1, 2014

R.I.P.Tom. I will see you in the after life my friend.
T.J.
Tami Sarmento
March 16, 2014
To Tom Laughlin.
You were a very talented actor. You were great as Billy Jack. My prayers go to your family. One tin soldier rides away. Lisa Weiner
Lisa Weiner
March 16, 2014
Tom Laughlin was a giver. He gave much to many who were growing up in the 60s and 70s and beyond. His creation- Billy Jack... positively impacted my life as I was going to college and expanding my vision of life and the world. After graduating college I relocated to the White Mountain Apache Reservation and taught and lived there for six years...experiencing native American culture and natural beauty. During my tenure, I shared a vision of life which was crystalized during my awakening in college. I eventually returned to the Choctaw Nation where I live today. I am saddened to realize that he is gone, but some of his ideas live on in the hearts and minds of those of us who held him in our highest esteem.
M.D. Gilbert
March 15, 2014
Tom Laughlin's BILLY JACK character helped shape many of my personal philosophies, especially my interest in learning about Native American culture...RIP, Sensei Laughlin!
March 7, 2014
One Tin Soldier Rides Away...RIP Tom.
Kevin O'Reilly
March 4, 2014
May the family know that others feel your loss. (Titus 1:2).
L. T.
March 4, 2014
My Hero is now gone.
Who will help up now, Billy Jack?
My best to all of us brothers and sisters.
buddy walkshorse
Ronald Walkshorse
March 2, 2014
Watching the 2014 Oscars and profoundly shocked and saddened to see Tom's picture on the tribute to those in the film industry who we lost in 2013. I didn't know. As part of the 60's counter culture 'Billy Jack' was our template for life - love, acceptance, tolerance and courage in the face of overwhelming odds. Billy showed us that one person CAN make a difference. To the whole family, thank you for your dedication to pure ideals and the example of a family's influence on a generation. Wasn't it just yesterday...?
Frank Porricelli
February 18, 2014
Was 13 when I saw Billy Jack. Great influence for me. In October last year 2013 saw movie played again on cable. This brought back a lot of memories. R.I.P Tom, great movie-Love you F.M (N.Y)
February 7, 2014
Tom and his family lived in a home which was 1 door away from ours when we moved to 38th street in 1945. My sister, Delores, and I frequently enjoyed playing with his dear younger sister (forgot her proper name - we called her "Mouse") who also graduated from Washington High. Tom and his family were always very friendly to us, and I remember that they moved away from their home on 38th street a few years later. Also remember that around 1957 or so he filmed some part of one of his movies at his previous home on 38th street which I greatly enjoyed watching... I send my sincerest condolences to his entire family... Bob Folle
Robert Folle
January 22, 2014
I loved the movie Billy Jack growing up
thank you and God Bless
Mike K
January 20, 2014
R.I. P.
I have enjoyed your movies I have watched Billy Jack so my times I could tell you what you was going to say be for you said it. I hope your family and friends will find peace, God just needed another Angel
Cecelia Sigmon
January 16, 2014
I'm so glad I finally got to meet Tom and Delores in 2007 after Grandmaster Bong Soo Han's memorial service. Thanks to both of them for being such inspiring role models and father and mother figures. My condolences to Delores, Frank, Teresa, Christina, and other family members and friends. I miss you, Tom!
Billy Jack
January 8, 2014
Don't have the words to describe how I feel about your passing on. You gave my generation priceless memories and untold pleasure with your movies. I will think of you every time I drive by a drive-in theater or hear "One Tin Soldier" on the radio. God bless you and your family.
Eddie
Eddie
January 5, 2014
Our generation understood your message and welcomed the significant contribution to the Native Americans - RIP Tom
Diane Coleman
January 4, 2014
Big influence in my life. RIP Tom Laughlin.
Matt Judge
January 4, 2014
We all really enjoyed his movies and the message perfect for the times. Too bad about what is going on in the country now
Jim Cazier
January 3, 2014
Rest in peace, Tom Laughlin.
Barbara Brayton
January 3, 2014
I was so sorry to hear of Mr. Laughlin's death. Billy Jack is fondly remembered. What a great marriage too, 60 years. Amazing. My prayers to his family.
Barbara Brayton
January 1, 2014
To Ms. Taylor and the Family of Mr. Laughlin. I was very saddened & sorry upon hearing of the passing of Mr. Laughlin. I was just a kid when I first saw the Billy Jack films, and still rewatch to this day. I suspect that Billy Jack was influenced by Mr. Laughlin own character. He inspired principles of Honour, Truth and Integrity, and was an influence for me to take up martial arts and my chosen profession. God's Speed to a man and a character that will live on with all those who admired him.
Mike Klarenbeek
December 31, 2013
Rip Billy Jack may ur journey be a peaceful one prayers and smoke to ur famil. would have enjoyed seeing a remake of Billy Jack!!!
sue Phillips
December 31, 2013
johnny patterson
December 31, 2013
my deepest condolences to the Laughlin family.tom made an impact on the way I looked at the world at a very early age through the messages he and all of you shared in the billy jack movies.although billy was a character what he stood for was real and many of his very same virtues are things I still try to live up to today.my thoughts and prayers are with all of you.may god keep and comfort you during this sad time.with love and respect al plusch and family
al plusch
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