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Pernell Roberts, Adam Cartwright on "Bonanza," dead at 81


Pernell Roberts, an original cast member of one of television's classic westerns, "Bonanza," died at his Malibu home Sunday. He was 81.

His death from cancer was confirmed by his wife, Eleanor Criswell.

Roberts was known to fans as the handsome and smart eldest son of the Cartwright clan, Adam. He played the role from its inception in 1959, but tired of the role after six years and left the show to act in films and resume a stage career that had brought him a 1955 Drama Desk Award for best actor in a production of "Macbeth." In 1979, he returned to series television in the popular "Trapper John, M.D.," playing the title character, Dr. John McIntyre, for the show's entire seven seasons.

In later years, he had guest roles in other shows and narrated documentaries. He retired in the late 1990s.

A complete news obituary will follow at

--Elaine Woo

Photo: The original cast of the NBC television series "Bonanza," left to right, Dan Blocker, Lorne Greene, Pernell Roberts and Michael Landon. Credit: NBC.

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Still enjoy watching Bonanza

A great man who will be missed dearly. RIP.

I recently rediscovered Bonanza, which still can be found airing daily in reruns on cable television. It's amazing how well the show has held up over the years. Compared to today's penchant for absolute realism even in fictional programming, Bonanza exuded an innocence of a another time. The good guys always won, the bad guys always lost, and the fire always burned warm and bright in the fireplace at the Ponderosa. Rest well sir.

A great man who was never seen for his true value. He will be missed greatly.
Rest in Peace Mr Roberts..........

Wasn't Bonanza the first TV show in color ??

Why don't you ever print a up to date photo of these stars when they pass ?

Hello friend,
We generally choose photos that show the deceased as most readers would remember the person. We'll have more photos of Roberts in a photo gallery to be posted later at

Actually, at the time of Garbo's death, this paper did print an updated pix of her (rather shocking, too!) which I haven't been able to find ANYWHERE else since! Now that I think more about it, that photo did not appear in the actual obituary, but rather in a separate "appreciation" article that appeared. Nevertheless, I do appreciate seeing that updated photo!

I grew up watching the show "Bonanza" and thought it was first rate. Mr. Roberts or "Adam" was one of my favorate actors and was sad to see him leave the show. It was a show of a different more happy era for me and he was a great actor and humanitarian. Now the whole cast are gone. Rest in peace Cartwright family.

When I was a little girl I loved little Joe Cutie pie. When I grew up, it was Adam all the way. He was smart. Sexy. Strong. So very Manly. I just adored Adam. And yes I do watch Bonanza in Re-runs and swoon over Adam. LOL. Rest in Peace Pernell. Thank you for your work. I watched Trapper John too. You were awesome.

I have loved Bonanza since I first watched it when I was 6
Although Little Joe was my favourite character, I loved the whole family
It is very sad to know that the last surviving member of the Cartwright family has now died
RIP Pernell Roberts

I thought Pernell Roberts had great potential as an actor and was always underrated! Loved him as Adam Cartwright, of course, but much more as Trapper John, M.D. He had more of a sense of humor and the character was far better developed and well-written for Pernell. I am so sorry that he lost his son. I don't think he lived a fulfilling life ....I got that vibe from him. I was always intrigued by his name, Pernell Elvin, very unusual! I pray that he is resting in peace, with his son. ~ Donna

I was saddened to hear of Pernell's death. The world will be a little smaller without him. Hopefully people who did not know what he stood for will appreciate his contributions to this planet and maybe take the road he walked.
Diana from Cleveland

I was saddened to learn of the death of Pernell Roberts. I related to him as the eldest child on Bonanza, and he really seemed to follow his own path throughout life. He brought a lot to a cardboard character. His singing voice was unique, and very good; if I play his album today, people will ask who it is.

I hope he got mellower in his age!

Condolences to his family and friends.

I remember coming home from school and Mom would be folding clothes and Bonnannza, Bam it would just be starting- we never missed - it was just our show.
Adam, though thee eldest of the sons you are the last to go to Heaven Amen.
Mum & I can't wait to see ya!!!

He was a good looking man and he will be greatly missed along with others that has went on before him.
Rest in peace Pernell

How depressing, all the Cartwrights are gone! L can remember watcching from the steps with my siter Maureen, as we were too young, being 5 and 6 while our brothers were allowed to watch because they were 13 and 14, so we would sneak down the steps and watch our favorite show. Still watch it in reruns and have introduced it to my daughters and their children. Takes me back pleasatly to warm famjly times.

I'm sorry to hear of the tragic news of Pernell Roberts I watched Bonanza as a boy this was a really great western series ideal tv series ideal for children to watch it's a pity there simply aren't too many programmes about nowadays that equal Bonana

Paul H Gt Britain

Semper Fidelis Brother
E D Schmidt

I have loved Bonanza since I first watched it when I was a little girl. And my favorite was Adam. RIP

By the way , I´m from Sweden and he was popular here too ;)

RIP Pernell E. Roberts.

Lots of fans in Germany grieve for him.

I'm growing up with Trapper John MD, I love the series very much.

Good bye Trapper .... You will be never forget.

as soon as the music started and the map began to burn our old man barked "Change the channel" so at 54 years old I ain't never seen bonaza and don't plan on it now

It is a shame that the Ponderosa Ranch outside of Reno, NV is not still open to the public. I would go again and put flowers on the markers for Ben, Hoss, Little Joe, Hop Sing and now Adam.

A great man and actor....who stood by his convictions for what he thought was good for the part he played. It was never about the money. RIP Mr. Roberts, you are also "burned into our hearts" just as the map was meant to do.

I remember Bonanza, i have a great memories about him.
will be missed much.

Deeply sympathic to his wife, Eleanor, she was a lucky woman to be with him in his final hours on earth. Now he is in a peaceful place, forever.

I have many fond memories watching Bonanza reruns daily in the early 90's as a young boy, with my twin brother and grandfather during hot summer days in California's central valley. By that time, Hoss had already died, and Pa, and Little Joe died around that time. I wondered when this day would come. The last of the greats. It's like the end of a chapter. How sad, and nostalgic.



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