Tom Laughlin most well known for his Billy Jack film series passed away Thursday, he was 82 years old. He has been ill for the past several years dealing with cancer of the tongue and coeliac disease. Laughlin developed a mass marketing scheme to market his films and it was copied a few years later by Hollywood. His unique plan of using television spots and commercials for his film revolutionized the way movies are marketed to the masses. He also developed the iconic cult film character Billy Jack that would inspire and entertain fans til this very day. Laughlin also ran for president several times during the past couple of decades whilst trying to find funding for the never completed film "The Return of Billy Jack".
Born on August 10, 1931 in Minneapolis, Minnesota Tom Laughlin lettered in football and attended Marquette University, University of Wisconsin and the University of South Dakota. He played football in college and became involved in stage acting. It was at U of S.D. is where he met his future wife and creative partner Delores Taylor. After leaving school he acted in bit roles on film and television. Laughlin wanted to make movies and directed two low budget productions "The Proper Time" and "The Young Sinner". The failure of the two films caused him to retire from the film industry and focus on opening a Montessori school.
Laughlin returned to film making after the failure of the Montessori school. When a couple of film projects didn't pan out, he decided to make a movie that would become a box office success. So, Laughlin worked with aspiring actress Elizabeth James and they would create what would be the movie "The Born Losers". The picture was a hit and Hollywood got his attention. Unfortunately, his next few projects never got off the ground so he went about created a semi-sequel to "The Born Losers" called "Billy Jack". The movie was based upon a screenplay he wrote whilst in college and incorporated the character of Billy Jack into the film. Billy Jack, the disillusioned half-breed Indian who was a former Green Beret became a huge hit earning over $32 million dollars off of a $800,000 budget.
"The Trial of Billy Jack" would follow and it to was a box office hit. The "epic" three hour b-movie would be followed by something completely different, "The Master Gunfighter. The movie was directed by his teenage son Frank (not by Tom under a nom de plume) and it didn't do very well. He would follow this up with another Billy Jack film "Billy Jack Goes to Washington". This film may or may not have gotten him blackballed by Hollywood and suppressed by the government (depending on who you ask). This box office disasters of the last two films ended the Tom Laughlin's independent film production career. He would try to revive the character and look for investors up until the day he passed away. The closest he got to another film was "The Return of Billy Jack" in 1986. That movie was only partially completed and he could never find the additional funding need to complete the film.
Tom Laughlin was a unique filmmaker. His DIY style and approach to movie production was innovative and ahead of its time. He created an iconic film character who's legacy will always be a part of Americana and he will be missed. Laughlin is survived by his wife of sixty years Delores and their three children.