Gunnar Milton Hansen (March 4, 1947 – November 7, 2015) was an Icelandic-born American actor and author best known for playing the mentally impaired cannibal and central role of Leatherface in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), which also starred Ed Guinn as the Cattle Truck Driver.
Gunnar was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, and moved to the United States when he was five years old. He lived in Maine until age eleven, when his family moved to Austin, Texas, where he attended both Austin High School and the University of Texas at Austin. He majored in English and mathematics as an undergraduate and then went to graduate school in Scandinavian Studies and English.
His first job out of high school was as a computer operator before he began theater work during college. He was also a football player during high school and for a while a bar bouncer. In 1973, just after finishing graduate school, Gunnar heard that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was being filmed in Austin and decided to try out. Tobe Hooper chose Gunnar to play the part of Leatherface, the masked killer in the movie, because of his size. However, because of Gunnar’s good looks they had to black out teeth to make him appear scary. Gunnar visited and studied children with special needs to determine the mannerisms for Leatherface. Gunnar’s character in the movie was one of the most iconic evil figures in the history of cinema.
After the success of the movie, Gunnar co-starred in Demon Lover, but after the experience he decided not to continue acting, instead pursuing a writing career. Gunnar edited a self-published poetry magazine, “Lucille” for years. In 1975, after one extra year of graduate school, Gunnar moved back to Maine and started writing. During this time he rejected a part he was offered in the cult horror film The Hills Have Eyes.
After writing (and occasionally editing) for magazines and writing books, Hansen returned to acting in 1988, appearing in the horror spoof Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, and appeared in 20 films since. He considered his later acting as a side project and continued to write books. He also wrote film scripts and wrote and directed documentary films.
Gunnar was also an author; his nonfiction travel memoir, Islands at the Edge of Time, A journey to America’s Barrier Islands, was published in 1993. In 2013 he wrote the nonfiction book Chain Saw Confidential, which focuses on the making and reception for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In addition, he taught college as an adjunct instructor.
At the time of his death, Hansen was at work on a film called “Death House.” Hansen was a writer and producer of the film, which is about how a secret government facility becomes ground zero for the most horrific prison break in the history of mankind. The film is scheduled to come out in late 2016
Gunnar died at his home in Northeast Harbor, Maine from pancreatic cancer on November 7, 2015 at the age of 68. Surviving Hansen is his partner of 13 years, Betty Tower.
Terror in the Aisles (1984) – archival footage
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait (1988)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth (2000)
Leatherface Speaks: An Informal Interview with Gunnar Hansen (2001)
Behind the Attic Door: The Making of “Rachel’s Attic” (2002)
Flesh Wounds: Seven Stories of the Saw (2006)