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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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Comments (46)

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We'll remember his role as Jim Conrad in episode 614- SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL. I absolutely adore San Francisco International. That has to be one of my favorite all time episodes. And Pernell is a huge reason why. In fact, the riffing during any interaction between Pernell and “Davey” is as good as it gets.

Pernell: “Yeah, the way, they hit that runway and go vrooooom.”
Servo as Davey: “You know a lot about planes!”

Pernell, you will be missed! :(


Difficult to accept that the entire "Cartwright" family is now gone. R.I.P.

I was so shocked and saddened by the news of Pernell's death. I loved him as Adam in Bonanza. He was such a handsome and talented actor. I feel an empty spot in my heart now, that nothing else can fill. To Eleanor: My love and prayers will remain with you. Rita Cox

It is sad that the British newspaper Guardian has a far better obituary for Pernell Roberts than any US paper could muster.

Wow, the last one is gone. I love the Cartwrights.
Lil' Joe would always get into trouble at the next town over, you would think the Cartwrights had more pull.
Now, Manuelito on The High Chapparel and Audra on The Big Valley could go coast to coast and border to border and they were protected.
Love all three shows.
We need another movie.

I grew up watching Bonanza and was bummed when Roberts left the show. The thing I remember best about him was that wry little smile and great baritone voice! RIP

I pay my respects to a great actor and a kind soul. My condolences to his family and closed ones.

On the other hand, in response to the comment below, I can probably speak for a lot of the folks that have posted here when I say that your comment was totally out of place. If you didn't know who Pernell Roberts was or were not a Bonanza fan, then what's the point of your post?? If you have nothing nice to say...

Seems all that "barking" at home has had a lasting effect on you.

"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
Posted by: jimmy mccullough 01/26/2010 at 12:39 PM"

It was my Dad's favourite show and he always told me to watch it when I visited America from India. Bonanza soon became my favourite show when I saw the reruns in the eighties. He will be missed by all his fans. RIP.

I remember watching Trapper John MD from High School though college. This was the way I ended my weekend. Trapper and Gonzo were the last guys I would see before I went to sleep. I loved the way Trapper alway kept everything under control. He was smart and clever. My favorite part was at the end of the show when Trapper would join Gonzo on top of the Titanic and enjoy a glass of wine. Just chill'n at the end of the day. I thought to myself, "Man that guy is so cool!" I wanted to be just like him. I never watched the Bonanza reruns until I found the earlier episodes with Pernell Roberts. It was interesting to see Trapper John as one of the Cartwrights. Then I started watching the Adam episodes of Bonanza. What a treat! I wish that the writers and producers would have taken some of Mr. Roberts' sugestions. Even though Bonanza went on for eight more years, it was not the same without Adam. I found that those show could not hold my interest. The Adam Cartwright charter spoke to me. I guest I am alot like he was is some ways.
I also remember an episode of the Odd Couple called "Strike Up The Band Or Else". This was before I knew who Pernell Roberts was but I knew he was cool! I will miss him very much! I want to thank him for giving me so much joy and entertainment through the years. Rest in peace Sir!

I grew up watching Bonanza. The Cartwrights were like family to many of the fans. Years later, I was fortunate to meet and get to know Pernell. He was quite a man. He had a wonderful voice and I enjoyed listening to him sing. He was a wonderful actor who enriched our lives. Pernell will be missed by fans and those of us who knew and loved him. Thank you Eleanor for loving Pernell and being with him in his time of need. Many of us grieve with you.

My heartfelt condolences to Pernell/Adam survivors. We lost our dad suddenly almost a year ago now. A flood of memories have been buzzing our heads and fond TV showings like the Ponderosa. I would try to rush down my dinner, so I could enjoy that program with my cat Tuffy laying on my back as I tummy down on the living room rug with my twin brothers and parents. He seemed to be the best horse rider of the bunch. For that, I would try to emulate his posture when I rode a horse a few times. Just by watching them, I taught myself to ride when I was a young girl. Pernell will be riding possibly a heavenly horse now with hopes you all will continue to be happy in this journey. GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

RIP Pernell Roberts. Bonanza and Trapper, M.D. both great shows.

When I saw in our daily paper Pernell Roberts had passed, I choked. Yes because a fine actor had passed away, moreso because my favorite character on Bonanza was now gone. And like a part of my childhood had also died. My brother and I grew up in the 50s and 60s, waited all week to see Bonanza on Sunday nite. It was such fun. When Mr Roberts left, I never ever liked the series as well. But do still see it quite frequently on TV land in reruns, always hoping for an episode with Pernell Roberts. RIP sir.

I love watching Bonanza when i was growing up and now watching the reruns i still enjoy watching Bonanza and when i read that Pernell Roberts aka Adam Cartwright had died it floored me. He will truely be missed. he will be in our hearts forever.its sad.He was the last of them to pass away.I also like watching him in Trapper John M.D.First it was Dan Blocker, then Lorne Greene, then Michael Landon, now Pernell Roberts they will all be missed.

Pernell Roberts was a gentleman and a fine actor. I, too, feel as if I've lost a dear friend. I grew up watching Bonanza from 1959, and it was a family favorite.
In 1976, my late mother and I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Roberts as he was coming into Musso & Frank's Grill in Hollywood. For Mom, this was heaven, as she had always loved his rendition of "Early One Morning," and finally had the chance to tell him so. He was very gracious and we had a lovely chat. Then he signed two cards for us, "Peace, Pernell Roberts."
Just knowing he was still there all these years was comforting. His strong presence and beautiful voice will be greatly missed. My sympathy and loving thoughts to Eleanor--thank you for taking care of him for all of us.

Pernell's passing was not, to my knowledge, commented on here in South Africa. Probably because it was not televised here. However, as a young teenager growing up in UK, with a cowboy mad elder brother, I too, was soon hooked on cowboy movies. Bonanza and the Cartwright family plus Wagon Train were our favourites. I recently came across Pernell singing ''Early One Morning'' and remember it from one of the episodes where he dubbed for Hoss who wanted to serenade a girl. How sad that the whole cast have passed on. Belated condolences to his wife and family with thanks for happy memories.
The Green Family in Cape Town, South Africa.

The last one is finally gone : (

I am a hugh western fan. My grandfather us to watch Bonanza all the time, and he got me hooked. Today,45 years later, every day I watch Bonanza, along with Gunsmoke, Cheyenne, and The Virginian. There should be more good movies on TV where family takes care of each other. The world is going to HELL in a hand basket.

In real life I think that with pernell Roberts was so very handsome and a great actor as well as a very good singer but in a long way I THink that with pernell Roberts will still be missed by his fans and by me(wendy sells) because I am a fan of pernell Roberts as well from wendy sells

So sorry to hear of his passing, one of my fav TV shows as a kid, and a totally respectable character. I was irritated to see he had been ignored in this year's "In Memoriam" segment of the Oscars. He was known best for TV, but he certainly was involved in films. They featured several people who had worked behind the scenes, but were unknown to the general public. I guess it was more important for them to make the segment interesting just to them by including these unknowns, instead making it interesting to the viewing audience that buys the movie tickets. Farewell, Adam, and thanks for the great viewing memories.

i was listening to the radio the maryland country music station 104.7WAYZ music city minute, the bus was loud so i didnt get all the details.



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