The Death of Billy Jack: A Sappy, Posthumous Love Letter

Now that we’re a few days past the death of Tom Laughlin, most of the Internet eulogizing is over, but there are some things I’ve been compelled to put onto the page anyway. Sometimes life just steps into the way and keeps us from doing things on the schedule we had planned, which is one of the lessons one might pick up from watching a string of Billy Jack movies.

Tom Laughlin did a lot more in his career than just be Billy Jack. He’d been working in the business for decades prior to making the movies that launched into the cult film stratosphere. He even made a few other movies in between Billy Jack titles before calling it quits after The Return of Billy Jack in 1986. It was Billy Jack, however, that really hit home with audiences, and it struck on many levels.

At the core of the Billy Jack stories is a man who just wants to do what’s right, whether what’s right is within the scope of the law or not. If the law didn’t manage situations they way they should be managed, then Billy Jack would manage those situations his own way. The right way.


He had strong convictions, and a firm belief in what was right. That belief was forged around his perception of right and wrong, and was very rarely as clear cut as black and white. Billy Jack worked in the gray area surrounds most of the important decisions we make in life.

Very often we all face decisions we know could have dire consequences, even if we do the right thing. The message of Billy Jack is to never allow those consequences to stop us from doing the right thing, even if those consequences mean taking on powers greater than us.

Sometimes those hard decisions involve others than ourselves, and in some instances, those other people involved might not have the fortitude to pursue the right path on their own, and might need a helping hand to find justice.

Too many of us encounter these situations, see what’s happening, know the fight that needs to be fought all too well, but still stand off to the side and watch as the powerful steamroll the weak, leaving a trail of wrecked lives behind them.

We think to ourselves, “Someone else will help them. it’s not my fight.”

We forget the fight for what’s right, the fight for justice, is a fight that affects all of us, whether the fight is in our living room, our community, or across the nation on the opposite coast.

I never was a fighter. I don’t like getting punched in the face. So physical fights aren’t the type things I’m willing to get involved with, but when I’ve encountered situations where I’ve believed others are being wronged by powers greater than they are, I’m ready to go to battle in other ways.

Billy Jack was a great inspiration to me during my journalism career.

For much of that career I found myself working in a rural West Virginia community where political corruption had been an institution for decades before I ever got there.

Initially I inadvertently found myself on the wrong side of what was right, and it took me a while to really see how deep the corruption ran. Eventually I was at a crossroads, where I had to choose between professional security and doing the right thing. It wasn’t a hard decision for me to make thanks to the lessons I learned from Billy Jack.

When the opportunity presented itself, I turned my back on the political machine I inadvertently had become part of, and chose to take a huge career risk. I took the information I’d learned from being inside the machine and use it in an attempt to destroy it. I left the comfy job I could have kept forever, and began working for a new publication whose sole mission was to dismantle the corrupt political regime.

It was stressful from the beginning, and at times became nerve wracking, but I never let it stop my efforts to make a difference. it was the right thing to do, and it was being done for the right reasons. At times, the majority of people in the area seemed to disagree with my mission, but again, I would not allow them to stand in the way of my goal.

That’s how Billy Jack would have done it. He wouldn’t have done it because he wanted to do it necessarily, but more because no one else seemed to be doing it already and he knew was capable of doing it.

Just as in the movie Billy Jack, the powers that be eventually won out, but not before I helped make some valid points and at least have a minor impact on the institution of injustice and wrong.

I fought the good fight and the people who fought with me got a few good blows in before getting squeezed out by those forces we could not control.

I don’t regret my decisions, and I sleep well knowing what I did was right, but to this day I still carry anger and resentment against those who are still in power, and still using it for their own personal gain.

If it wasn’t for inspiration from characters like Billy Jack, that might not be the case today. I might still be plugging away at a job I didn’t care for because I knew I was nothing but a pawn for The Man.

So thank you Tom Laughlin for providing me with material strong enough to shape my attitude toward life. So far, I’ve done the best I could with what I learned from Billy Jack, and I intend to keep doing it until my heart stops beating too.

Sometimes it only takes One Tin Soldier.

billy-jack-movie-poster-1971-1020200965 billy-jack-movie-poster-1971-1020200965 trial_of_billy_jack_xlg billy_jack_goes_to_washington