James Hampton, a veteran character actor best known as bumbling bugler Hannibal Shirley Dobbs on ’60s sitcom F Troop, died Wednesday at his home in Fort Worth, Texas, from Parkinson’s disease complications. He was 84 and his death was confirmed by TV biographer Randy West.
A character actor whose amiable appearance made him the quintessential sidekick, Hampton had a long career in film and television before retiring to his native Texas.
Beyond F Troop, he is best remembered for many key film roles, including appearances as Caretaker, the manager of the prison football team in the 1974 Burt Reynolds film The Longest Yard.
He also had supporting roles in the 1979 thriller The China Syndrome, the 1981 superhero comedy Condorman, the 1985 comedy, and Teen Wolf,. playing Harold Howard, father to Michael J. Fox’s title character. Hampton reprised the part in the 1987 follow-up with Jason Bateman, Teen Wolf Too, and the animated series spinoff. He was also in 1996’s Sling Blade as Jerry Woolridge.
Later in his career, Hampton wrote and directed several sitcoms, including the early 1990s series Evening Shade, which featured Burt Reynolds.
Hampton studied acting in New York, Los Angeles, and Texas and appeared Off Broadway in several productions. It was in one of those plays that he met Reynolds.
He appeared in the Oscar-nominated short film The Cliffdwellers, but began his TV career in 1962 as “Jeb” on TV’s long-running Gunsmoke. That led to F Troop in 1965 where he memorably played P.F.C. Dobbs, the incompetent bugler and personal assistant to lead character Captain Parmenter (Ken Berry). Dobbs could only competently play Yankee Doodle and Dixie on his bugle, bolloxing the standard Army fare.
Although the TV series lasted only from 1965-1967, it became a fan favorite in frequent reruns through the years.
Other TV roles included a recurring spot on The Doris Day Show as Leroy B. Simpson and appearances on Gomer Pyle USMC, and The Rockford Files.
He received a HALO award for his part in the film Hawmps! and a Golden Globe nomination for “Caretaker” in The Longest Yard.
In 1980, he starred alongside Gary Collins in the low-budget movie Hangar 18.
Survivors include his wife, Mary Deese, sons Jim and Frank and daughter Andrea, and three grandchildren
No details were immediately available on memorial plans. The family requests donations to the Michael J. Fox Foundation in lieu of flowers.
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