Chuck Connors a former professional basketball and baseball
player who gained stardom as an actor on the television series
"The Rifleman," died yesterday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in
Los Angeles. He was 71 years old and lived on a ranch in
Tehachapi, California, north of Los Angeles.
He died of Lung cancer, the hospital said.
Chuck had a lackluster sports career, but his towering height of 6 feet 5 inches and his square-jawed masculinity made him a natural for rugged acting roles. When his struggling athletic career landed him with the Los Angles Angels, a minor-league baseball team, he began picking up minor movie parts and soon gave up sports.
His big break came when he played Lucas McCain, the sharpshooting good gut in the popular
"Rifleman" series, which originally ran from 1958 to 1963. In the heyday of television westerns. The character, a homesteader and single father, disposed of varied frontier villains with his Winchester rifle.
Chuck appeared in at least 45 films and numerous television series and specials. He was nominated for an Emmy Award for his portrayal of a slave owner in the mini-series "Roots" and also a Golden Globe Award in 1959.
He was politically active in Republican and conservative causes. He marched in a parade in New York City in 1959 supporting the Vietnam War. He campaigned for Ronald Reagan, a friend.
When President Richard M.
Nixon invited several celebrities to meet Leonid Brezhnev
in 1973, Chuck presented the visiting Soviet leader with United
armaments — two
Colt .45 six-shooters and a cowboy hat. Brezhnev, a western fan was delighted. He and the actor locked in such an enthusiastic bear hug that Chuck briefly lifted him off his feet.
West From Brooklyn.....
Despite his western image, Chuck was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. His first name was originally Kevin. He was offered numerous sports scholarships as a young man and played at Seton Hall in World War II, he served four years in the Army, much of it as a tank instructor at West Point.
After the war he returned to sports, playing in the National Basketball Association as a forward for the Boston Celtics. He went on to baseball, playing first base in the Dodgers farm system. He had one at bat in Ebbets Field but haplessly sent off to Montreal.
As an athlete, he was a bit of a clown, reciting poems in the locker room and turning cartwheels while rounding the bases on a home run. From the Dodgers, he went to the Chicago Cubs, which sent him to its farm team in Los Angels and his new career.
In the 1950's he started acting with roles in
"Pat and Mike," "Target Zero," "Hold Back the Night" and
"The Big Country," among others. His later movies included
"Geronimo," "Old Yeller," "Flipper," and
Chuck was married and divorced three times. He is survived by four sons, Steven, Jeffrey, Michael and Kevin, all of Los Angels, and three grandchildren.