Former Hollywood Stuntman “Grateful” for MOWAM
June 28, 2016
Gary Kent made a career falling off galloping horses and speeding motorcycles, jumping out of tall buildings, getting into fistfights, and wrecking cars. That’s life on the job for a Hollywood stuntman, a role he played for 40 years.
These days, chronic back and hip issues serve as daily reminders of the rough and tumble life he led. The pain makes it tough for him to stand for very long. He spends much of his time in the front room of his South Austin home, the walls covered with photos and movie posters. When asked what made him risk life and limb, he credits the films he saw as a child.
“I always identified with guys like Errol Flynn, the guys who were doing all the sword fights. That’s what I wanted to do was all that action stuff. I rode my tricycle, at the age of three, down the cellar stairs and broke my arm. That was probably my first stunt,” he recalls.
Mr. Kent went on to earn a degree in Journalism from the University of Washington. He then joined the U.S. Navy and soon became the public information officer for the Blue Angels, the Navy’s famous flight demonstration squadron. Later, Mr. Kent worked in radio - first as a news reporter and then as an announcer. It was during this time, while he was living in Houston, that he began acting at the city’s famed Alley Theatre. He enjoyed being a stage actor, but after seeing the film “On the Waterfront”, he decided Hollywood was where he needed to be. “So I took a Greyhound bus to L.A. to try my hand at show business and see what would happen,” he says.
Once there, he made ends meet by working at a local TV station as a stage manager. One day, during his time off from his job, he saw something that changed his life forever. “Frank Sinatra was filming a movie on Gower Street in Hollywood. I was watching them shoot,” says Mr. Kent. He quickly took notice of the stuntmen working on the film. “These guys, they looked like gladiators to me,” he recalls with a chuckle. “I thought ‘that’s what I want to do’. So, I started finding out about stuntmen but I didn’t know how to get on a picture.”
He got his first big break in the mid-1960’s when a friend mentioned that Jack Nicholson was looking for a stuntman for a film called “The Shooting”. Mr. Kent landed the job. “I didn’t know anything about stunts, so I was falling off horses without any pads,” he says. In spite of his inexperience, he soon was working regularly and receiving invaluable on-the-job training. He went on to be Nicholson’s body double in “Hells Angels on Wheels”, ditto for Robert Vaughn in the 1960’s TV series, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E”, and Bruce Willis in 1994’s “Color of Night”. His last stunt credit was on the 2002 cult-classic “Bubba-Ho-Tep”; he broke his leg in two places during filming of the picture. He was 72 at the time.
Since then, he’s had open-heart surgery and survived two types of cancer. He has trouble standing long enough to cook and wash dishes. It wasn’t uncommon for him to skip meals rather than endure the pain of trying to fix something to eat. Six months ago, a concerned friend recommended Meals on Wheels and More. Soon he was receiving our hot, nutritious lunches, hand-delivered to his home by our dedicated volunteers. He’s also a client of our Second Meals program which provides a weekly supply of healthy breakfasts. Mr. Kent credits our food with improving his health. But he says there are other benefits as well. “Not only does it give me a chance to actually have a meal where I don’t have to fix it myself, but to meet the people that come by to deliver it. They’re just such delightful people. They just bring this sunshine along with the meal. I’m grateful, very grateful.”
MOWAM and our volunteers are happy to serve you, Mr. Kent. It’s as easy as falling off a horse.