LOS ANGELES – Actor Pernell Roberts, who shocked Hollywood by leaving TV’s “Bonanza” at the height of its popularity, then found fame again years later on “Trapper John, M.D.,” has died. He was 81.
Roberts, the last surviving member of the classic Western’s cast, died of cancer Sunday at his Malibu home, his wife, Eleanor Criswell, told the Los Angeles Times.
Although he rocketed to fame in 1959 as Adam Cartwright, eldest son of a Nevada ranching family led by Lorne Greene’s patriarchal Ben Cartwright, Roberts chafed at the limitations he felt his “Bonanza” character was given.
“They told me the four characters (Greene, himself and Dan Blocker and Michael Landon as his brothers) would be carefully defined and the scripts carefully prepared,” he complained in 1964. “None of it ever happened.”
It particularly distressed him that his character, a man in his 30s, had to continually defer to the wishes of his widowed father.
“Doesn’t it seem a bit silly for three adult males to get Father’s permission for everything they do?” he once asked a reporter.
Roberts agreed to fulfill his six-year contract but refused to extend it, and when he left the series in 1965, his character was eliminated with the explanation that he had simply moved away.
“Bonanza” continued until 1973. Blocker died in 1972, Greene in 1987, and Landon in 1991.