Denny Miller, an athlete-turned-actor whose credits range from small-screen wagon train scout to big-screen Tarzan with dozens of stops in between, died today of ALS at his Las Vegas home. He was 80. After a playing basketball at UCLA under legendary coach John Wooden, Miller turned to acting. Within a year, he starred in the MGM remake of Tarzan, The Ape Man (1959). Director Joseph Newman’s low-budget pic was eyed as a trilogy, but as Miller said in a 2007 interview with the Las Vegas Journal-Review, “the one I did was so bad they didn’t do the other two.” That didn’t hurt his acting career, though. He appeared on early-’60s TV Westerns including Laramie, Have Gun — Will Travel and The Rifleman before landing a regular role on the popular Wagon Train in 1961. Billed as Denny Scott Miller and later Scott Miller, he played young scout Duke Shannon for three seasons and 100-plus episodes.
After that he was a regular on the series Mona McCluskey, playing the Air Force husband of a Vegas showgirl (Juliet Prowse). He later appeared on two episodes of Gilligan’s Island, and the characters he played took their names from his two most famous roles: Tongo the Ape Man and surfer Duke Williams. The Bloomington, IN, native went on to guest in episodes of such TV classics as Gunsmoke, Hawaii Five-O, I Dream Of Jeannie, I Spy, The Brady Bunch, Mission: Impossible, The Six Million Dollar Man, Quincy, M.E., Battlestar Galactica, The Rockford Files, M*A*S*H, Dallas, Murder, She Wrote and Magnum P.I. He also appeared in about a dozen movies during a four-decade acting career and was the raincoated TV pitchman for Gorton’s seafood for nearly 15 years. In his 2004 autobiography Didn’t You Used To Be What’s His Name? Miller said the company altered the look of the fisherman on its labels to resemble the actor.