farewell, Tom Laughlin (Billy Jack)



I loved his film, Billy Jack. I was a teenager when it came out. I remember sitting in our downstairs rec room watching it on TV and wishing that I was one of the kids at The Freedom School. The Freedom School, what a wonderful name! They got to ride horses, pursue their artistic talents, and live in the open mountain air. Who would want to do anything else?

The character of Billy Jack was a charismatic, anti-establishment combatant who single-handedly stood up to corruption, injustice and bigotry. He was a hero. He was my hero. He defended the underdog who, in this film, was a group of Native Americans. He was also a feminist and came to the aid of women in need. It was the 1970s and that movie awakened something in me. I wanted to have a boyfriend just like Tom Laughlin.

In real life, Laughlin stood up to Warner Brothers to take back his own film. He battled the studio’s distribution and marketing systems and won. Later in life he also battled cancer and overcame it.

I loved the theme song of the Billy Jack film, One Tin Soldier, and would joyfully sing along to the words – “Listen, children, to a story that was written long ago…” Radio stations all over North America should play that song over the airwaves this week in homage to Mr. Laughlin. Because he was a true rebel and a maverick and a humanitarian. (OK, he wasn’t exactly a pacifist. There’s a lot of gunslinging and kick-boxing, not to mention swagger in the film. But it was a movie of its time that carried an idealistic message.)

Today we could use more figures like Tom Laughlin. What happened to idealism? What happened to heros?