Harry Dean Stanton was born in Irvine, Kentucky, the son of Sheridan Harry Stanton, a tobacco farmer and barber, and Ersel, a cook.
Stanton had two younger brothers, Archie and Ralph, and a younger half-brother, Stan. His family had a musical background. Stanton attended Lafayette High School and the University of Kentucky in Lexington where he performed at the Guignol Theatre under the direction of British theater director Wallace Briggs and studied journalism and radio arts. “I could have been a writer,” he told an interviewer for a 2011 documentary, Harry Dean Stanton: Crossing Mulholland, in which he sings and plays the harmonica.
During 2010, Satnton appeared on the NBC show Chuck for one episode, reprising his role as a repo man from the 1984 film Repo Man. In 2011, the Lexington Film League created an annual festival, the Harry Dean Stanton Fest, to honor Stanton in the city where he spent much of his adolescence.