Gary Kent, the actor, director and stunt performer who also served as one of the inspirations for Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth character in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” died on May 25 in Austin, Texas, The Austin Chronicle confirmed. He was 89.
Kent began his career as a seasoned stunt performer after to traveling to Los Angeles in 1958. Ahead of doubling for Jack Nicholson in Monte Hellman’s “Ride in the Whirlwind” and “The Shooting,” Kent worked in film production offices and acted on the side, appearing in “Legion of the Doomed,” “King of the Wild Stallions,” “Battle Flame,” “The Thrill Killers” and “The Black Klansman.”
Soon after his stuntman debut in 1965, Kent appeared as a gas tank worker in Peter Bogdanovich’s debut feature film “Targets,” then worked on “Hell’s Bloody Devils,” “The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant” “Angels’ Wild Women” and Richard Rush’s “Psych-Out,” racking up injuries along the way.
While starring in Al Adamson’s soft-core Western “Lash of Lust,” Kent encountered Charles Manson and his followers living at the Spahn movie ranch, and later told Quentin Tarantino about Manson and his mechanic’s work on the film’s dune buggy. Though the Cliff Booth character was also based on other stuntmen, Kent’s story inspired the “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” sequence when Booth encounters the Manson family at Spahn Ranch.
In addition to performing in front of the camera, Kent also worked in production jobs and directed, serving as the assistant director on “Dracula vs. Frankenstein,” the unit production manager on Brian De Palma’s “Phantom of the Paradise,” writer-director for “Rainy Day Friends” and director of “The Pyramid.”
He served as the stunt coordinator in 2002’s “Bubba Ho-Tep,” but suffered a leg injury. Retiring from stunt work, he continued acting until 2020, appearing in “Rondo and Bob.” More recently, he also served as the stunt coordinator on “Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains” and “Sex Terrorists on Wheels,” in 2018 and 2019, respectively. The 2018 documentary “Danger God” chronicled his exciting life in stunts and acting.
Born on June 7, 1933, in Walla Walla, Wash., he studied journalism at the University of Washington. Kent left college and joined the U.S. Naval Air Force and handled publicity for the Blue Angels and acted on local stages, which then led him to move to Houston, Texas, where he wrote, directed and acted at the Alley and Playhouse theaters.
In 2009, Kent released a memoir chronicling his career, titled “Shadows & Light: Journeys With Outlaws in Revolutionary Hollywood.”
He is survived by his children, Chris, Greg, Colleen, Andrew, Alex and Michael, and his grandchildren, Ethan, Nicolette, Timothy and Hannah.