Creating an icon is no easy feat; it takes hard work and quite a bit of talent. Every now and then someone comes along who expertly creates something that instantly goes down in legend – often imitated, but beyond compare. Gunnar Hansen did just that in Toby Hooper’s 1973 horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with his portrayal of psychotic cannibal and killer Leatherface, but sadly we as fans must now say goodbye.
Hansen’s agent confirmed the actor passed away at the age of 68 after losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. Hansen – a native of Iceland – had at least 20 movie credits to his name at the time of his passing. According to ABC News, he had worked as a magazine editor, author, and documentarian. Of all his numerous accomplishments, horror fans will most remember him for his haunting portrayal of Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
The importance of Hansen’s contribution to the horror genre cannot be understated. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will go down in legend as one of the forerunners of the modern slasher genre. While it was not necessarily the first film in the genre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre pioneered numerous elements that would go on to become staples for characters like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers – such as trademark weapons, imposing physical stature, and a face hidden by a mask.
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Numerous other actors have portrayed the character of Leatherface over the years, but most – if not all – merely copied the genius portrayal of Hansen’s original work. While the character has never necessarily been likeable in the traditional sense, Hansen created a killer whom audiences could not help but feel bad for. Leatherface had clear mental issues and killed less because he wanted to and more so because his family made him do it. He would wear various masks – made of human skin – that corresponded with his current personality. Sometimes he would wear a mask to kill, other times he would wear one to clean the house and prepare food for his loved ones.
Now is the time to not only mourn Hansen’s passing, but to also celebrate him and his accomplishments. He created one of the greatest horror villains of all time, and in doing so laid the groundwork for an entre genre that would scare and startle generations of moviegoers. For that very reason we say thank you Mr. Hansen, may you rest in peace.
Originally from Connecticut, Conner grew up in San Diego and graduated from Chapman University in 2014. He now lives in Los Angeles working in and around the entertainment industry and can mostly be found binging horror movies and chugging coffee.
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