James Drury, who played the mysterious, nameless title character on the 1960s NBC Western The Virginian, died today of natural causes. He was 85. His death was announced on the actor’s Facebook page by his longtime assistant, Karen Lindsey.
“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,” Lindsey wrote. “He will be missed so much. It is beyond words.”
The Virginian was TV’s first 90-minute Western and ended up being one of its longest running and enduring, airing nearly 250 episodes from 1962-71. Drury’s character never revealed his real name as he “forced his idea of law and order on a Wyoming Territory community in the 1890s.” That was Medicine Bow, and the Virginian was the foreman of Shiloh Ranch.
The Virginian was based on the 1904 novel that also inspired theatrical features in 1914, 1929 — with Gary Cooper in the title role — and 1946.
It was a slow-building series, ratings-wise, ranking as No. 26 among all primetime series for its inaugural 1962-63 season. It would peak during the 1966-67 season, finishing tied for 10th for the year in a three-network era.
The Virginian continues to air in reruns around the country. Just last week, Drury made a brief appearance in a “We Ride Together” public-service announcement from INSP.
Before he landed the Virginian gig, Drury guested on dozens of TV Westerns and a few features starting in the mid-1950s. He had roles on such series as Gunsmoke, Have Gun – Will Travel, Rawhide, Wagon Train, Cheyenne, Death Valley Days and Perry Mason.
Lindsey said memorial plans are TBA
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