Friday, April 20, 2012

Levon Helm 1940-2012

“Then they built a small plane, the X-1.”

Musician and actor Levon Helm has passed away at the age 71.

A legendary musician who saw the birth of rock n’ roll, Helm had a short yet memorable film career. His notable credits include the Oscar-darling COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER (1980), MAN OUTSIDE (1989), and SHOOTER (2007). His music found its way into film as well; his weary, southern-tenor voice in “The Weight” found its way into EASY RIDER (1969).

But movie geeks will undoubtedly remember him forever as Jack Ridley in THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), the definitive film documenting America’s early days in space exploration. Helm’s character was Chuck Yeager’s best bud and confidant who loaned him gum and bailed him out when in troube. And his southern-friendly voice, saturated in an American good-old-boy vibe, was chosen to narrate the film. Helm stood out in a massive cast which included Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Sam Shepard, Fred Ward, Barbara Hershey, Veronica Cartwright, and Lance Henriksen; he wasn’t just the glue that held Chuck Yeager together, he was what held the entire film together.


As a space-nut since a wee-lad, this Blogger always held THE RIGHT STUFF in very high regard. Levon Helm’s character was a vital one outside of the memorable narration; without Ridley’s assistance, Yeager would have never broken the sound barrier, and American space flight may not have arrived for several more years. Jack Ridley was a man that could be trusted, and Helm was trusted with that character. Thanks to Levon Helm, we know that for every Yeager out there, there is a Ridley right behind him; loaning him gum and keeping his ass straight in the saddle.

“Put the spurs to her, Chuck!”


  1. On the eve of his death, I was directed to a YouTube clip of the first eight minutes of this film, to hear his narration. I didn't realize that he was also playing Jack Ridley. So all these years, when I've been saying "Fair enough" in Jack Ridley's accent, I've been doing a Levon Helm impersonation. Wow.

  2. I think it took me 20 years to realize he was the narrator as well. I still get a kick out of the "Hey Ridley, you got any Beemans?" line Chuck says to him all the time.


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