It is with extreme sadness that the Gore 4 reports that Gunnar Hansen has died at the age of 68. According to his agent, the actor died at his longtime home in Maine after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Although he appeared in a number of genre films over the years, Gunnar is best known for portraying one of the most iconic horror villains of all time, the legendary Leatherface, in the original Tobe Hooper 1974 classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Long before there was a Freddy Krueger, a Jason, a Pinhead or a Michael Myers, there was Leatherface, the chainsaw-wielding, pig-squealing serial killer. He led the way for all that followed, and it was Gunnar’s portrayal, even under a mask made of human skin, that elevated the role to its iconic status in the world of film horror. Shot in a style that gave the film a sense of realism, Texas Chainsaw achieved a level of notoriety that few films have ever reached, vilified by the likes of Siskel & Ebert, and making us like the film even more.
Gunnar was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1947, and moved to the States when he was only 5. After a few years, his family relocated to Texas, a move that would ultimately cement his standing in the annals of horror. It was after graduating from the University of Texas, and subsequent graduate school, that Gunnar learned that filmmakers were in Austin to make a movie, and having done some theater work in college, he decided to try out. Little did he know that his portrayal of Leatherface would change his life forever.
Dunnar’s imposing 6 foot 4 inch frame was perfect for the part, one of the most physically demanding slasher roles in film, as he had to run through the woods chasing down his victims, waving a heavy chainsaw over his head, all while wearing a grotesque-looking mask. Unlike other horror icons, Gunnar never reprised his role again on film, instead, preferring to pursue a career in writing, and acting only sporadically throughout the years. He did pick up his weapon of choice again in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers in 1988, appeared in films like Hellblock 13 and Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, and also had a cameo in the 2013 reboot, Texas Chainsaw 3D, starring Gore 4 fav, Alexandria Daddario. That year also saw the release of his book, Chain Saw Confidential, an account of the making of the controversial 70s film and its aftermath. Gunnar, who by all accounts couldn’t have been any further from his famous role in person, was a frequent and popular guest at conventions across the country and beyond, appearing at Fangoria and Chiller Theatre cons frequently. Here he is at one of those conventions with two other horror icons, Angus Scrimm (The Tall Man from Phantasm) and the late David Hess (Last House on the Left) in this Gore 4 exclusive pic: