Saturday, September 13, 2014

Denny Miller Dead at 80


Actor Denny Miller, whose diverse film and television roles ranged from the first blond Tarzan on the big screen to scout Duke Shannon in the classic TV Western Wagon Train, has died. He was 80.

Miller, who wore a yellow rain slicker as the Gorton’s Fisherman in TV commercials for the seafood company for more than a decade, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) in January and died Tuesday in Las Vegas.

The 6-foot-4 Miller, who played basketball at UCLA for legendary coach John Wooden in the 1950s, also is known for his role as Western movie actor "Wyoming" Bill Kelso in the 1968 Peter Sellers comedy The Party.

Over three seasons Miller starred in more than 100 episodes of Wagon Train, which aired on NBC and ABC from 1957 to 1965. He then segued to playing an Air Force sergeant who is married to a Las Vegas chorus girl (Juliet Prowse) in the short-lived NBC sitcom Mona McCluskey.

Miller starred as Edgar Rice Burroughs' lord of the jungle in the 1959 low-budget Tarzan, the Ape Man, a remake of the 1932 classic that starred Olympic gold medalist Johnny Weissmuller. Footage from that film, as well as Tarzan's yell, were recycled from the original.

A native of Bloomington, Ind., Miller was thinking about pursuing a career as a basketball or football coach when he was spotted by an agent on Sunset Boulevard. He signed a movie contract at MGM after his screen test was directed by George Cukor and appeared in an uncredited role in the Frank Sinatra drama Some Came Running (1958).

Miller also worked in such films as Making It (1971), Buck and the Preacher (1972) and The Norseman (1978).

The actor made more of a mark on television, with stints on dozens of shows including Gilligan's Island, Have Gun — Will Travel, The Rifleman, Ben Casey, The Fugitive, I Spy, The High Chaparral, Hawaii Five-O, I Dream of Jeannie, The Brady Bunch, The Six Million Dollar Man, Battlestar Galactica, Barnaby Jones, Charlie’s Angels, Magnum, P.I. and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

In 1984 Miller guest-starred in four episodes of the CBS primetime soap opera Dallas as Max Flowers. In the story, J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) tricked Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) into investing in some expensive offshore oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Once Cliff was leveraged to the hilt, J.R. bribed Max, Cliff's foreman, to slow down the drilling so Cliff wouldn't strike oil before his bank loan came due, thus bankrupting him.

Miller is survived by his wife, Nancy.

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