MOUNT DESERT — For horror movie fans, he was a chainsaw-wielding psychopath. But to the Mount Desert Island community, Gunnar Hansen was anything but.
The actor, screenwriter, historian and poet who starred as the cannibalistic Leatherface in the original 1974 “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” died Nov. 7 at his Northeast Harbor home due to pancreatic cancer. He was 68.
“His professional persona was nothing like him,” said longtime friend Bob Pyle, who was by Hansen’s bedside when he died. “He was kind, and gentle, and thoughtful and supportive.”
Born in Reykjavik, Iceland, Hansen’s family moved to Searsport when he was 4 years old. He spoke no English at the time when he befriended Pyle.
“Our friendship blossomed because we didn’t need to talk; we had other ways of communicating,” Pyle recalled.
Hansen’s family relocated to Austin, Texas, in 1958, and he remained there until he finished graduate school at the University of Texas.
After filming the movie that would spawn a generation of “slasher” films, Hansen returned to Maine to be Pyle’s best man in 1973, and shortly after moved to Mount Desert.
Author and Mount Desert Selectman Martha Dudman was friends with Hansen for nearly 40 years.
“He [had] been a big part of this community for many, many years,” Dudman said. “Everyone knew him, the way you know everyone in a small town. He was well liked, a private person but a very gracious person.”
For decades, Hansen was a trustee of the Northeast Harbor Library and was on the committee that oversaw its 2002 expansion. He was also on the board of the Mount Desert Festival of Chamber Music for over 25 years.
“He loved classical music, particularly opera,” Pyle said. “He and I shared an interest in Bach and Mozart and all of them.”
Hansen acted in more than 20 films, including a role in the 2012 remake, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D.” But foremost, he considered himself a writer.
“He was a very serious writer; he was very poetic, and was a serious reader as well,” Dudman said. Hansen wrote essays on boat building, the official histories of St. Mary’s Church by-the-Sea and the town of Mount Desert, as well as “Chain Saw Confidential,” about the making of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Hansen also penned scripts for several documentaries about Maine and Mount Desert Island, including most recently “Ralph Stanley: An Eye for Wood” about the master boat builder. Before his death, Hansen was working on the script for the Hollywood horror movie “Death House.”
“Movie scripts, books, essays — he was always working on something,” said Jeff Dobbs of Dobbs Productions, who collaborated with Hansen on four local documentaries. “We had a lot of things planned.”
Hansen had a deep interest in the local history of the island and its people.
Over the past year, Hansen was working on an outline for “Becoming Acadia,” a Dobbs Productions film for Acadia National Park’s centennial.
Dudman remembered talking with Hansen outside of the Northeast Harbor post office one day last year, reminiscing on the past and all of the “old characters” in town.
“‘We’re the old characters now,’ Gunnar told me, and we both laughed,” she recalled.
“Well, now there is one less old character in Northeast Harbor. And we will miss him.”