Heaven's Gate (1980) Cast: Where Are They Now?

Heaven's Gate (1980) Cast: Where Are They Now?
Heaven's Gate Cast Updated in 2024

Nearly 45 years since its disastrous premiere and subsequent failure at the box office, Michael Cimino’s ambitious Western epic Heaven’s Gate has undergone a critical re-evaluation and is now considered by many to be a flawed masterpiece.

Let's take a nostalgic trip back through frontier America and explore what became of the film’s stellar cast.

The Leading Men

Kris Kristofferson as James Averill

Kris Kristofferson

Kristofferson was already an acclaimed musician and songwriter before turning to acting in the 1970s. His performance as the principled Marshal Averill certainly showcased his natural charisma and gravitas. However, Heaven’s Gate’s failure unfortunately stalled his burgeoning film career.

In recent years, the now-88-year-old has continued acting while still recording music on occasion. He reunited with Heaven’s Gate co-star Isabelle Huppert for the 2018 film The Parting Glass.

"I learned a lot from working with Kris. He has so much presence and depth as a performer." - Isabelle Huppert on working with Kris Kristofferson in Heaven’s Gate

Christopher Walken as Nathan D. Champion

Christopher Walken

Walken was praised for his intense and unsettling performance as the cunning assassin champion. He delivered one of the film’s most memorable scenes while dancing to "The Blue Danube" by Strauss.

Now 80, Walken's had a long and eclectic career over the past 40+ years. He won an Academy Award for 1978's The Deer Hunter and has appeared in over 100 films, including pulp classics True Romance and Pulp Fiction, throughout the '80s and '90s.

John Hurt as William C. Irvine

John Hurt

The great John Hurt left an memorable mark on Heaven’s Gate as did the passionate immigrant advocate William Irvine. Hurt tragically passed away in 2017 at age 77, leaving behind an incredible acting legacy with performances in films like Midnight Express, Alien, and The Elephant Man.

"John was incredibly devoted and believed deeply in the film. His passion drove us all." - Kris Kristofferson on working with John Hurt
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Sam Waterston as Frank Canton

Sam Waterston

Waterston turned in a charismatic performance as the unscrupulous frontier politician Frank Canton. The 80-year-old is likely best known nowadays for his long-running role as District Attorney Jack McCoy on TV’s Law & Order.

Character Actors

A film is often only as good as its supporting talent, and Heaven’s Gate featured an exceptional roster of character actors:

Brad Dourif as Mr. Eggleston

Brad Dourif

At only 29 years old, the intense Dourif left a strong impression as the creepy mercenary Mr. Eggleston. He later terrified audiences as the voice of Chucky in the Child's Play horror franchise. The 74-year-old continues acting in films to this day.

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Joseph Cotten as The Reverend Doctor

Joseph Cotten

The legendary Cotten brought an intriguing mix of gravitas and mystery to his role as the Reverend Doctor. By 1980, Cotten was already an acclaimed veteran actor from Hollywood’s Golden Age, with classic films like Citizen Kane and The Third Man under his belt. He passed away in 1994 at the age of 88.

Isabelle Huppert as Ella Watson

Isabelle Huppert

French actress Huppert brought charm and intelligence to one of the film’s few substantial female roles, Ella Watson. Now 71, Huppert’s had an acclaimed career spanning French and English films. She received an Academy Award nomination for her harrowing performance in 2017's Elle.

"Isabelle brought such vibrancy and passion to her performance. A true artist." - Michael Cimino, director of Heaven's Gate

Jeff Bridges as John L. Bridges

Jeff Bridges

30-year-old Bridges displayed his early knack for charming rogue characters as sharpshooting outlaw John Bridges. Of course, he would go onto tremendous critical acclaim in later years with an Academy Award win for 2010’s Crazy Heart. At 74, Bridges remains an active force in Hollywood.

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Geoffrey Lewis as Trapper Fred

Geoffrey Lewis

Heaven’s Gate benefited greatly from seasoned character actor Geoffrey Lewis’s flamboyant turn as the opportunistic fur trapper Trapper Fred. Lewis, father of actress Juliette Lewis, continued acting regularly up until his death in 2015 at the age of 79.

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Ronnie Hawkins as Maj. Wolcott

Ronnie Hawkins

Veteran rockabilly musician Hawkins made for an imposing figure as the stern Major Wolcott. His initial four-hour scene was later cut to a small cameo. Hawkins continued his music career until he passed away in 2005 at age 63.

The film memorably featured a young Mickey Rourke in a small role as a Hungarian immigrant. Rourke, of course, later achieved fame in films like Diner, Angel Heart, and The Wrestler, for which he received an Academy Award nomination.

Mickey Rourke

Another notable name is Terry O'Quinn as Capt. Minardi. O'Quinn would go on to star as John Locke in the hit series Lost.

Terry O'Quinn

Behind the Scenes Talent

While Heaven’s Gate is remembered for its turbulent production, it also benefited from talented below-the-line artists, including:

Vilmos Zsigmond - Cinematography

Michael Cimino with Vilmos Zsigmond

The great Zsigmond garnered praise for his lyrical photography and capturing the Manitoba landscape. He passed away in 2016 after an Oscar-winning career working on classics like The Deer Hunter and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

David Mansfield - Musical Score/Fiddle

David Mansfield

Then, only 23 years old, the violin virtuoso Mansfield performed impressive solo compositions as well as fiddle music appropriate for the 1870s period. He later became a prolific film and television composer.

For a bit of fun, see Mansfield perform the Heaven's Gate Waltz 40 years apart!

So forty-five years after its calamitous release, Heaven's Gate now endures as a memorable showcase of acting and filmmaking talent captured in a uniquely ambitious vision of the American West. Both epic and intimate, its images and performances will doubtless captivate audiences long into the future.