Willie Week: Willie the actor peaked in the 1980s

By Dave Thomas


JESSICA SIMPSON as Daisy Duke and WILLIE NELSON as Uncle Jesse in Warner Bros. Pictures' and Village Roadshow Pictures' action comedy 'The Dukes of Hazzard,' also starring Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Sam Emerson PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION.
Playing Uncle Jesse, alongside Jessica Simpson in “The Dukes of Hazzard,” didn’t stretch Willie Nelson too far as an actor. Photo by Sam Emerson

Chances are, you know Willie Nelson the actor as the cameo-friendly pot enthusiast (“Half-Baked”) or the let’s-not-take-this-too-seriously sideman (“The Dukes of Hazzard”) or — you fanatic — the bad TV movie dabbler (“Beer for My Horses”)

But for a good stretch in the 1980s, Willie was going to be an actor. A serious actor. And he was good! (Well, as long as he was essentially playing himself.) Here’s five Willie Nelson movies you should check out, and one you shouldn’t …

One excellent supporting role

“The Electric Horseman.” Willie Nelson started his acting career as the older cowboy buddy/handler to a been-through-the-grinder rodeo star played by Robert Redford. When the first act ends with Redford and Jane Fonda leaving the minor characters behind, we get one last shot of “Wendell.”

Legend has it that Willie ad-libbed his last line …

“I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna get me a bottle of tequila, find me one of them keno girls that can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch and just kind of kick back.”

Not a bad start to an acting career.

Two Willie Nelson musician movies

“Honeysuckle Rose” and “Songwriter.” If the latter movie is like watching Willie, Kris Kristofferson and Kristofferson’s chest hair have a good time and sing great songs for 94 minutes, then “Honeysuckle Rose” is practically a Willie documentary with the names changed for artistic license.

I mean, c’mon. “Buck Bonham” is an awesome name.

Three Willie Nelson cowboy movies

“Barbarosa,” “Red Headed Stranger” and “Stagecoach.” Where the first two are entirely serviceable Westerns, perhaps aided by a six-pack of beer and a little love for Willie, the remake of “Stagecoach” is just terrible.

To say it “stars” the Highwaymen is to misuse the word. Kristofferson, who can act from time to time, has completely checked out. Willie’s charm is forced. And Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings stake out opposing ends of terrible — Cash is as stiff as an old oak plank, Jennings as shapeless as sawdust.

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