With a larger than life presence both onscreen and off, Dan Blocker was a television legend for his role of Hoss Cartwright for 13 seasons of the 1960s Western television series "Bonanza" (NBC 1959-1973) until his ... Read more »
With a larger than life presence both onscreen and off, Dan Blocker was a television legend for his role of Hoss Cartwright for 13 seasons of the 1960s Western television series "Bonanza" (NBC 1959-1973) until his untimely death in 1972. While Blocker would go on to appear in films and play other characters, he was inseparable from his role on one of the longest running series on television.
Bobby Dan Davis Blocker was born on December 10, 1928, to Ora Shack Blocker and his wife Mary Davis Blocker in De Kalb, Texas. After Blocker was born, the family moved to O'Donnell in west Texas and opened up a general store. Due to his large frame, Blocker was a natural at sports. After enrolling in military school at age 13, he was a star linebacker and was offered a football scholarship at Sul-Ross State College in 1946. At 18, he already stood 6'3" and weighed close to 300 pounds, but his school pursuits quickly turned from studying physical education to drama, after a girlfriend recruited to act with her in a campus production.
After graduation, Blocker turned down offers to further his football career and headed to the stage instead, where he performed repertory theater work in Boston followed by an appearance in the 1950 production of Shakespeare's King Lear on Broadway. But his acting career was briefly derailed after he was drafted for combat duty in the Korean War, where he served as infantry sergeant from 1950-1952 with the 45th Division. After his tour ended, Blocker returned to Sul Ross to complete his master's degree and married his high school sweetheart. With a new family to provide for, Blocker started teaching high school English and drama in Sonora, Texas before moving to Carlsbad, New Mexico to continue teaching.
It wasn't the Hollywood sign that initially brought Blocker out to Los Angeles, but his academic ambitions. Blocker and his family headed out west where he started working on his doctoral degree in education at UCLA. While pursuing his PhD and working as a substitute teacher, Blocker broke into the business in 1957, playing bit parts in western series such as "Sheriff of Cochise" (Syndication 1956-1960) and "Gunsmoke" (CBS 1955-1975) before graduating to larger roles on such shows as "The Restless Gun" (NBC 1957-59) and "Cimarron City" (NBC 1958-59). While Blocker steadily built up his acting credits, it wasn't until he accepted the role of Hoss Cartwright on "Bonanza" in 1959 before he permanently put his higher learning on hold. From the creator of "Cimarron City," "Bonanza" would be the turning point in Blocker's life and would shape his career for the next 13 years. Blocker couldn't be more different from the slow but sweet, middle son of the Ponderosa Ranch, Hoss Cartwright, but his warm performance won the hearts of audiences nationwide and made the show a hit for decades to come.
Due to the rigorous shooting schedule of "Bonanza," Blocker could only participate in a few additional projects, but he did manage to appear in a number of films and TV movies including the Neil Simon comedy "Come Blow Your Horn" (1963) and "The Lady in Cement" (1968), which were both Frank Sinatra vehicles. Unable to avoid the looming presence of his "Bonanza" character, Blocker was typecast for most of his career, but his starring performance in the TV movie "Something For the Lonely Man" (1968) finally showed audiences the full range of his acting abilities. In addition to his active career in film and television, Blocker was a staunch Democrat and took a break from acting to support Lyndon Johnson's 1964 presidential campaign and encouraged other actors to speak out against the Vietnam War.
During the height of his acting career, Dan Blocker's life was cruelly cut short, after he died from a blood clot during minor gall bladder surgery on May 13, 1972. It would be the first time in television history that a show referenced a major character's death in the storyline. He was with the show from its first inception and he continued to entertain posthumously as the series re-ran in syndication 40 years later.