Tom Laughlin, who played hapkido master and former Green Beret ‘Billy Jack’ in the series of 1970’s cult films, has passed away. In the 2nd film, titled ‘Billy Jack’ (after the character 1st appeared in 1967’s ‘Born Losers’), Grandmaster Bong Soo Han doubled for Laughlin in many of the martial arts scenes, although Laughlin himself apparently did study the Arts.
‘Billy Jack’ was a low-budget independent film that became a box-office hit in 1971. In the film, Laughlin’s vigilante character, who was part Native-American, defended a counterculture “Freedom School” from townspeople who were harassing and discriminating against the school’s Native American students. Laughlin’s wife of 60 years, Delores Taylor, also acted in all four Billy Jack films.
Tom Laughlin directed all four Billy Jack films: The Born Losers (1967), Billy Jack (1971), The Trial of Billy Jack (1974), and Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977). Delores and Tom’s son Frank also became involved in the film industry, directing his father in the western/martial arts crossover movie The Master Gunfighter in 1975, which co-starred Blaxploitation icon Ron O’Neal and Barbara Carrera.
According to news reports, Laughlin died near his Thousand Oaks, California, home on Thursday.