Delores Taylor, who co-starred with husband Tom Laughlin in the 1971 indie hit Billy Jack and its sequels, has died. She was 85. Her daughter Teresa Laughlin told Deadline that Taylor died March 23 and had been battling dementia while living at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Home in Calabasas, CA.
Taylor played Jean Roberts in Billy Jack, in which Laughlin starred as the half-Navajo martial arts expert who served as a Green Beret in Vietnam and came home to help defend a counterculture school from bigoted townspeople and authorities who didn’t like their long hair and varied ethnicities.
Despite any formal training as an actor, Roberts earned a Golden Globe nomination for Most Promising Newcoming Actress for her role as the school’s organizer. She and Laughlin co-wrote the film, which he directed.
Completed in 1969 on a budget of $260,000, Billy Jack was released in 1971 by Warner Bros after other distributors balked. It hit theaters at a time when the plight of Native Americans in the U.S. was part of the country’s consciousness, fueled in part by pop culture success of the nonfiction runaway bestseller Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and the chart-topping Paul Revere & the Raiders single “Indian Reservation.”
Taylor also had an uncredited role in The Born Losers, the Laughlin-helmed 1968 biker flick that introduced the Billy Jack character. They would team again for sequels The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) and Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977). A decade later, Laughlin also wrote, directed and starred in a fifth film in the series, The Return of Billy Jack. Also starring Taylor, it never was finished.
Taylor also was an executive producer on Born Losers and Trial of Billy Jack, co-writing the latter. She also was an EP on The Master Gunfighter (1975), written, directed by and starring Laughlin in a landowner-vs.-local Indians tale not tied to the Billy Jack franchise.
Teresa Laughlin said that Taylor received numerous acting offers after the success of Billy Jack but politely demurred.
When Tom Laughlin died in 2013, he and Taylor had been married for nearly 60 years. They met in 1953 at the University of South Dakota at Vermillion, where she was studying graphic art. They were married in 1954.
Before their movie careers, Taylor and Laughlin founded the Maria Montessori School in Santa Monica, the first on the West Coast.
Along with Teresa Laughlin, who runs TC Laughlin Public Relations Group, Taylor is survived by her other children Frank Laughlin and Christina Harrington; grandchildren Jessica Laughlin, Ellery and Hutchens Harrington, and Lily and Arlan Laughlin; and sisters: Joan Wishart and Darlene Taylor.