“BILLY JACK” TOM LAUGHLIN DEAD

Published on: December 16, 2013
Photography by: Corbis
 “BILLY JACK” TOM LAUGHLIN DEAD
 “BILLY JACK” TOM LAUGHLIN DEAD

BILLY JACK creator/actor/director TOM LAUGHLIN has thrown his last roundhouse kick at injustice at age 82.

 Laughlin's daughter Teresa revealed he died Thursday at Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, Calif. from complications from pneumonia.

Action fans of the counterculture "Billy Jack" recall the ground breaking indie was released in 1971 after a long struggle by Laughlin to gain control of the low-budget, self-financed movie he wrote. produced, directed and starred in.

Laughlin was born in 1931, growing up in Milwaukee. He played football for the University of South Dakota and Marquette University, but decided he wanted to become an actor after seeing a production of "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Early film credits included "South Pacific," "Gidget" and Robert Altman's "The Delinquents." In 1960 he directed, written and starred in "The Young Sinner."

In his mid 30s, Laughlin created Billy Jack with his wife and collaborator, Delores Taylor.

 Billy Jack was a half breed -- half-white, half Native American, a Vietnam vet and practitioner of martial arts who loathed war, becoming a pacifist – fighting only when absolutely necessary.

The character Billy Jack first appeared in the 1968 biker B-movie "Born Losers”>

While "Billy Jack" was completed in 1969, but its release was delayed for two years as Laughlin struggled to find studio distribution. He eventually successfully sued Warner Bros. to retain rights and - with no support from Hollywood or from theater chains - Laughlin four-walled the flick himself – distributing it  himself and rent theaters to show it in.  He also ballyhooed the movie with a barrage of non-stop commercials and was among the first filmmakers to open a movie nationwide, rather than regionally.

It was followed in the series by “The Trial of Billy Jack” and “Billy Jack Goes to Washington”

Not content to make action flicks with a social message, Laughlin 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, bonding with Marlon Brando in an attempt to bring justice for the beleaguered American Indians.

The Billy Jack films have long remained a favorite among indie and action fans and helped spawn later anti-heroes such as Sylvester Stallone’s reluctant warrior “Rambo

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

“Being an Indian is not a matter of blood …it’s a way of life.”

Adios, amigo.