James Drury, who played the gruff title character of NBC’s “The Virginian,” has died. He was 85.
Drury’s assistant, Karen Lindsey, confirmed the news to USA TODAY, writing that he died early Monday morning at his home in Houston, Texas, of natural causes.
“The Cowboy took his last ride,” Lindsey said in a statement on the actor’s official website. “It is with immense sadness that I let you all know that James Drury, our beloved Virginian and dear friend passed away this morning of natural causes, Monday, April 6, 2020. He will be missed so much. It is beyond words.”
Drury was born and raised in New York, and got his start appearing in TV Westerns such as “Gunsmoke,” “The Rifleman,” “Rawhide,” “Black Smoke” and “Wagon Train,” before landing the title role of NBC’s “The Virginian.”
“Virginian” centered on a nameless ranch foreman, and co-starred Lee J. Cobb, Doug McClure, Gary Clarke and Roberta Shore. The series ran from 1962 to 1971 for nine seasons and 249 episodes, making it the third longest-running TV Western behind “Gunsmoke” (20 seasons) and “Bonanza” (14 seasons).
Asked about the show’s lasting appeal in an interview with Mansfield News Journal last year, Drury credited the “brilliant” writing, supersized 90-minute episodes and big-name guest stars.
“It still holds up,” Drury said. “The old Westerns were morality plays that showed the triumph of good over evil and I think that’s important for young people to see on screen these days because it will inspire them to live their lives that way.”
“People now tell me about their grandkids who discover the show on cable and start watching it,” he continued. “It’s a wonderful feeling to know the show is still viable after all these years.”
Drury mostly quit acting in the mid-90s and worked in the oil and natural gas business in Texas. His wife of 40 years, Carl Ann, died last year.
He is survived by his sons, James Drury, Jr. and musician Timothy Drury, as well as three stepchildren, four grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
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