Richard Farnsworth was terminally ill with bone cancer during the shooting of the film, which had caused the paralysis of his legs as shown in the film. He actually took the role out of admiration for Alvin Straight, and astonished his co-workers with his tenacity during production. Because of the pain of his disease, Farnsworth committed suicide the following year, at the age of 80.
Richard Farnsworth was going to turn down the film because he didn't like the language in Blue Velvet (1986). Only several personal assurances by David Lynch and the other writers that the film would contain no cursing did he agree to do it.
This film will be known as the last starring roles of two well-known and respected actors, Everett McGill and Richard Farnsworth. Until joining the revival for Twin Peaks (2017), McGill seemed to have retired from the film business, while Farnsworth died of an alleged self-inflicted gunshot wound shortly after the film was released.
Unlike David Lynch's prior films (or any that would follow), this was released by Walt Disney Pictures after a successful debut at Cannes, was given a G rating by the MPAA (the only Lynch film to receive such a rating) and is the only Lynch film for which Lynch himself did not have a hand in the screenplay (although it was co-written by his recurring associate, Mary Sweeney).
In the film, Alvin's brother's name is mentioned as Lyle; however, in Straight's biography in the Des Moines Register, his name is listed as Henry. This is most likely not an error, but rather the result of Alvin's brother not wanting his real name used in the film.