January 26, 2010 / 12:42 AM / 9 years ago

"Bonanza" star Pernell Roberts dies at 81

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Pernell Roberts Jr, who played the introspective eldest son of wealthy rancher Ben Cartwright on the hit TV western “Bonanza” and went on to star in medical drama “Trapper John, M.D.,” has died. He was 81.

Roberts died at his Malibu home on Sunday of pancreatic cancer, said his spokesman, Richard Stone.

“Bonanza” first aired in 1959, and Roberts starred in the show from the start, as rancher Ben Cartwright’s son.

Roberts earned many fans with the role as the quiet and serious Adam, but he left the show in 1965, even though some at the time said he was ruining his career by doing it.

“Bonanza” ran until 1973, and the popular series is one of the longest running westerns in TV history, behind “Gunsmoke.”

After “Bonanza,” Roberts mainly appeared in stage musicals and guest starring roles in TV shows, before he returned to series work in 1979 with his title role in “Trapper John, M.D.” a part he played for seven seasons.

The actor supported the U.S. civil rights movement, and in 1965 he marched to Selma, Alabama, with Martin Luther King Jr in a campaign for voting rights for blacks.

Roberts was married four times and his only son, Chris, died in 1989. He is survived by his wife Eleanor Criswell.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Jill Serjeant

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