Actor Ken Kercheval, who played blundering Texas oilman Cliff Barnes on TV’s iconic “Dallas” oil opera, has died in his Indiana hometown, according to a local funeral home. He was 83.
The Frist Funeral Home in Clintton, Ind., confirmed Kercheval died Sunday. A cause of death was not disclosed.
His death was reported by the town newspaper, The Daily Clintonian, which said he had been ill for some time. The Hollywood Reporter and Variety also confirmed his death, as did his agent, Jeff Fisher, according to The Associated Press.
Kercheval was best known for his portrayal of Barnes, the lawyer-turned-oilman who was forever butting heads with Larry Hagman’s ruthless J.R. Ewing – and usually losing.
In the end, Cliff has the last laugh: He beats J.R. in the final season and takes over Ewing Oil.
Before that, Kercheval had a sure-fire way of getting viewers to tune in every week to “Dallas.” Whenever he was asked when Cliff was “finally going to get J.R.,” his answer was: “This Friday night!”
Besides Hagman, Kercheval was the only actor on the big-hair, big-oil series to appear throughout the original 13-year run of the CBS show that ended in 1991. Kercheval also reprised the role in the 1996 “Dallas” TV film, in the 2004 CBS reunion special, and in the 2012-14 “Dallas” reboot on TNT.
Kercheval was the connection in a on-set tragedy in 1989, when a disgruntled former popcorn company business partner of Kercheval’s crashed the gate at the Culver City studio where “Dallas” was filmed, setting set fire to his truck, shooting at the “Dallas” set and then killing himself with a shotgun as police moved in.
Police believed the man sought to confront Kercheval over their soured business relationship. Neither Kercheval nor other actors were on set that day.
After a stint at the University of Indiana, Kercheval began training as an actor in the mid-1950s at The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City, making his Broadway debut in the 1962 play “Something About a Soldier.” Multiple theater roles followed, including in “Cabaret” and, in 1966, as the title character in the original Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
His first TV roles were in soap operas such as “Search for Tomorrow,” “The Secret Storm” and “How to Survive a Marriage.” His film credits included “The Seven-Ups” with Roy Scheider plus “F.I.S.T.” with Sylvester Stallone.
After “Dallas,” Kercheval appeared in numerous other TV series, including “Kojak,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “L.A. Law,” “Crossing Jordan,” and “ER.” In the 1980s, he appeared on the game shows “Super Password” and “The $25,000 Pyramid.” In the 2000s, he appeared in multiple community theater productions.
On his IMDb page, his last movie role is listed as 2019’s “Surviving in L.A.,” a comedy/drama in which he plays the business manager of a former teen sitcom star who trashed her life through drug abuse and is fresh out of rehab.
A longtime smoker, Kercheval was a lung cancer survivor: He had part of his lung removed in 1994.