The world of horror icons grew a shade smaller today, as Gunnar Hansen passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. Hansen is best known for his iconic portrayal as “Leatherface” in 1973’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Despite three sequels, two reboots and a sequel that followed one of the reboots, no one that lifted the saw after Hansen could ever come close to duplicating his terrifying powerhouse performance in Tobe Hooper’s classic.
A number of year ago I had the joy of attending a screening of Texas Chainsaw with Hansen in attendance for a post showing Q&A. Despite the late hour-the questions began and two in the morning and continued for a solid ninety minutes until theater staff wrapped the event up for fear people would have their cars towed-Hansen handled the evening with grace and gratitude. He was a joy to listen to as he recounted the odd and sometimes harsh conditions while shooting the film.
What struck me about Mr. Hansen was that while he was grateful for the role of Leatherface and the opportunities it afforded him, he didn’t allow the role to define him. Hansen was a gentle giant of a man, and a true artist. He settled back down in Maine, his boyhood state, and along with acting, turned to writing poetry and novels along with painting.
Perhaps its the existence of this soft, artistic side that allowed Hansen to garner sympathy for his monster, something that cannot be said for other icons of the day like Michael, Jason, or Freddy. Hansen’s Leatherface is a simpleton, a child that has no way of comprehending the horror of his actions. Even the final, famous moments of the film which find Leatherface swinging his saw over his head in anger and frustration share traits with a child throwing a tantrum after losing his favorite toy.
Hansen was 68 years old. He is survived by his partner of 13 years, Betty Tower. Beloved by millions of horror fans across the globe, he will be truly missed.