'Billy Jack' Star Tom Laughlin Dies at 82

Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack - P 2013

UPDATE: The actor also wrote, directed, produced and distributed films in the series, centering on a former Green Beret vigilante with martial-arts skills.

Tom Laughlin, the actor, writer, director and producer behind the Billy Jack films, has died. He was 82.

His family announced on BillyJack.com that Laughlin died Thursday "at sunset" near his home in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

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In the four Billy Jack movies, Laughlin played the main character -- a mystical half-breed ex-Green Beret hero with martial-arts skills -- opposite his wife, Delores Taylor, who portrayed a schoolteacher.

The couple teamed on screenplays, and he directed all four films. Themes explored included child abuse, religious persecution and exploitation of the Native American. 

An activist in real life, Laughlin ran for U.S. president in 1992, 2004 and 2008.

The Billy Jack series started with Born Losers (1967), in which Laughlin's character battles a motorcycle gang that terrorizes and rapes women in a California beach town.

In Billy Jack (1971), Laughlin defends a hippie-themed school, stands up for Native American schoolchildren and kills a man for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. After three studios fell off the film, Laughlin sued and arranged distribution on his own. Billy Jack grossed more than $40 million in a rerelease, one of the most successful independent films of its time.

The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) finds our hero in and out of prison and is marked by a bloody finale meant to reflect on the campus-shooting incidents of the day, like the one at Kent State in 1970. And in Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977), which never made it to theaters, Jack is appointed a U.S. senator.

A fifth film, The Return of Billy Jack, was started in the mid-1980s but never finished.

Laughlin also wrote, produced and starred in The Master Gunfighter (1975), with the actor freeing Native Americans during the California mission period. And he had a role in the London-set 1978 version of The Big Sleep, directed by Michael Winner and starring Robert Mitchum.

Earlier, Laughlin had the lead in The Delinquents (1957), the first dramatic feature directed by Robert Altman.

A native of Milwaukee, Laughlin attended several colleges, for whom he played football. He made his onscreen debut in a 1955 episode of Climax!, appeared on The Millionaire and other shows and was in the films South Pacific (1958) and Gidget (1959).

Laughlin and Taylor, who survives him, were married for 60 years. Survivors also include their children, Frank, Teresa and Christina (they also were involved in the Billy Jack films), and five grandchildren.

Services were not announced. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family asks that donations be made to Friends of Pine Ridge or the Alzheimer's Foundation of America.