Ken Kercheval Dies: ‘Dallas’ Actor Was 83


Actor Ken Kercheval, best known as Texas businessman Cliff Barnes on the CBS series Dallas, has died. A cause of death is not known, but a spokesperson at the Frist Funeral Home in the actor’s hometown of Clinton, Indiana, told Deadline that Kercheval died Sunday. He was 83.

Kercheval’s character was a signature presence on Dallas — along with his bitter rival J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), Barnes was the only character to appear in all 14 seasons (1978-1991) of the soapy saga about Texas crude and crude Texans. The character was originally modeled on Robert F. Kennedy but that template didn’t hold for long. Instead Barnes was defined by his family’s rivalry with the Ewings and his character was spun in varied directions as needed — his job title, for instance, changed a dozen times over the course of the series (assistant district attorney, head of the oil regulatory committee, legislative counsel to a state senator, Vice President of a tool and die company, among them).

Kercheval was also in the 1986 prequel Dallas: The Early Years, a TV movie that fleshed out the franchise’s central conflict, the rivalry between the two oil industry families. Kercheval also returned to the character for the 1996 television movie Dallas: J.R. Returns and then again for three seasons (2012-2014) of a Dallas revival, which presented the career-bouncing Barnes as a casino industry player.

Dallas also gave Kercheval a chance to experiment with job directions himself: He went behind the camera to direct an episode of the series in each of  its final two seasons.

Kercheval was born July 15, 1935, in Wolcottville, Ind., and raised in nearby Clinton. A music and drama major at Indiana University he later studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Kercheval began his professional acting career on the stage, making his Broadway debut in the 1962 play Something About A Soldier. He went on to appear Off-Broadway in 1972’s Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill revue. His other theatre credits include The Apple Tree, Cabaret (replacing Bert Convy as Cliff), and Here’s Where I Belong. He also appeared as the title character in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof, co-starring with Herschel Bernardi, Maria Karnilova, Julia Migenes, Leonard Frey, and Pia Zadora.

It was television, however, where Kercheval became a face familiar to millions. His credits included appearances on E.R., L.A. Law,, Murder She Wrote, CHiPs, Highway to Heaven, Kojak, The Love Boat, Matlock, and Starsky & Hutch. His film credits include Network, The Seven-Ups and F.I.S.T. in the 1970s.

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