LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Fess Parker, the tall, Texas-born actor who became a star of early television playing American frontier folk hero Davy Crockett and later portrayed Daniel Boone, died on Thursday at the age of 85.
Parker, whose role as Crockett made him a household name in the mid-1950s and inspired a generation of young American baby boomers to don his trademark coonskin cap, died of natural causes at his California home, a family spokeswoman said.
Parker retired from show business in the 1970s to concentrate on business ventures, ultimately opening a popular resort hotel on the Santa Barbara waterfront and a Central California winery bearing his name.
“He passed away this morning,” the spokeswoman, Sao Anash, told Reuters. “He was 85 and it was old age, actually. His body just sort of shut down. He had been at home under hospice care for the past few months.”
Parker was born in Fort Worth, Texas and raised in San Angelo, a one-time Texas frontier town less than 200 miles from the Alamo — where Crockett famously died helping defend the fort from Mexican troops in 1836.
Parker served in the U.S. Navy and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin before trying his hand at acting, landing a contract with Warner Brothers and appearing in a series of small roles.
His life would change at the age of 29, in 1954, when Walt Disney hired him to star in a three-episode miniseries about Crockett, the “King of the Wild Frontier” whose life became an American folk legend.
The three episodes were enormously popular with viewers, catching the Walt Disney Co by surprise and spawning one of TV’s first pop culture frenzies — inspiring the sale of coonskin caps, buckskin clothes, toy rifles, books and other memorabilia.
The show’s theme song, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” which recounted that the hero “kilt him a bear when he was only three,” went to the top of the pop charts and stayed there for 13 weeks.
Although the series was meant to end with Crockett’s death at the Alamo, its unexpected success prompted Disney to crank out two more episodes and a feature film.
Parker returned to the frontier in 1964 as the star of “Daniel Boone,” a hit NBC series about another early American folk hero and adventurer that ran until 1970.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Peter Cooney