Bonanza's Beloved Dan Blocker Lives on in Syndication
Bonanza debuted 55 years ago September 1959 starring Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts, Michael Landon, and East Texan Dan Blocker. Born in DeKalb, Blocker moved with his family to West Texas where he spent his boyhood before moving to California to begin his acting career. Bonanza was America’s favorite Western for many years and Blocker’s role as the big, lovable Hoss Cartwright was the heart of the show. His character was originally conceived as dull-witted but ironically, Blocker was the most educated of the cast with his master’s degree in dramatic arts. He was working on his PhD when he got the “Bonanza” role and got too busy to finish.
Blocker is quoted as having said that he portrayed the Hoss character with a Stephen Grellet excerpt in mind which states, “We shall pass this way on Earth but once — if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again.”
Personal accounts of Blocker testify that he was warm and friendly to everyone and he brought that personality to the character of Hoss.
Bonanza had great success, ranking #1 for three straight seasons and then spent a then-unprecedented nine seasons in the Top 5 before Blocker died suddenly in 1972 at the age of 43 from a pulmonary embolism (a post-op blood clot to the lungs) after a “routine” gall bladder surgery. The show wrote his death into the script (without really saying what happened to Hoss) and tried to go on but it did not last another entire season without the “gentle giant.”
Blocker was brought back to East Texas for his final resting place in Woodman Cemetery in DeKalb next to his parents’ gravesite as well as a sister that died in 1933 at age 11. “Bonanza” continues to run in syndication more than 40 years after Hoss took his final bow. — P.A. Geddie
For an interesting, heartfelt write up on Dan Blocker/Hoss Cartwright as “The First Time a TV Show Addressed the Death of a Character,” see http://mentalfloss.com/article/28798/first-time-tv-show-addressed-death-character.