Nov. 22, 1963: While visiting Texas and driving through a parade route in an open-air vehicle, President John F. Kennedy is fatally shot by one Lee Harvey Oswald.
Now cut to the late William Hootkins getting blown to bits in "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" as Jek "Red Six" Porkins. You'd never guess that those two events, one fictional and one not, were related. But Hootkins was, for a brief time, a person of interest in the FBI's investigation of Kennedy's assassination.
Naturally, the FBI launched a massive investigation into Oswald and all of his moves leading up to that fateful day in November. They questioned everyone, no matter how tangential, hoping to determine whether there was a conspiracy and if there was, who was in on it.
Soon enough, their investigation led them to Ruth Paine. Paine taught Russian and was a close friend of the Oswald and his wife Marina. At the time of the assassination, the Oswalds were separated, and Marina was living in a house owned by Paine. The weapon that killed the president was even hidden in Paine's garage for a time, leading agents to wonder if Paine was involved.
As the FBI looked into Paine, they also checked out her students, one of whom was 15-year-old William Hootkins. The teenager was studying nearby at St. Mark's and needed a Russian tutor. Ruth Paine filled that role, but her proximity to the Oswalds made him a subject of the investigation, too. So the FBI stepped in and questioned Hootkins and his family. You can read the FBI's report of the conversation with Hootkins' mother here.
Eventually, the investigating agents realized that Paine was oblivious to the plot to kill the president, the gun being held in her garage was something she didn't know about, and Hootkins really was just her student.
After the excitement, Hootkins eventually ended up at Princeton where he found a love of acting. Unfortunately, he was there at the same time as Tommy Lee Jones, and Jones got all the best leading parts while Hootkins played the supporting roles. That worked out, since Hootkins built a career out of them, perhaps most notably in his service against the Empire trying to destroy the Death Star.
Hootkins passed away in 2005 of pancreatic cancer. And his connection to the Kennedy assassination wasn't something he talked about. We spoke to John Morton, Hootkins' friend and fellow actor who played Luke Skywalker's co-pilot Dak in "The Empire Strikes Back," who said he didn't even know about this story until we requested a comment from him. It wasn't something Hootkins had spoken of. Morton told us that they talked of many other things, though:
When asked if Hootkins maintained his Russian language skills, seeing as he had one of the most famous teachers ever, Morton couldn't think of a time Hootkins had ever spoken it. But he was able to remember the humor of the man: "I can't think of any time I'd ever spent with Billy where he didn't have a smile on his face. He saw the humor in everything he looked at. In a positive way, not in a negative or ironic sense. He was just uplifting."