You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Hugh O’Brian, Star of TV’s ‘The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,’ Dies at 91

Hugh O’Brian, who starred in the long-running series “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,” died Monday. He was 91.

The actor died peacefully in his Beverly Hills home, according to a statement from Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership.

ABC Western “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,” in which the exceedingly handsome, muscular O’Brian starred as the title character, ran for 221 episodes from 1955-61. At the time he was one of television’s great male sex symbols.

In 1957 he was nominated for an Emmy for best continuing performance by an actor in a dramatic series for his work on “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.”

So popular and so much a part of popular culture was O’Brian that he showed up as Earp, uncredited, in the 1959 Bob Hope Western comedy “Alias Jesse James,” as well as in the 1960 TV movie “The Secret World of Eddie Hodges”; when the actor guested on “Make Room for Daddy” in 1956, the episode was entitled “Wyatt Earp Visits the Williamses.”

The actor had appeared in many feature Westerns by the time ABC cast him in its series as Wyatt Earp, a lawman who was one of the legends of the Old West.

Later he appeared in features including the 1963 comedy “Come Fly With Me”; in 1965, he starred in the feature “Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians” along with Shirley Eaton and Fabian and had an uncredited role in Otto Preminger’s World War II drama “In Harm’s Way,” starring John Wayne, Patricia Neal and Kirk Douglas.

In 1972-73 he starred with Doug McClure, Anthony Franciosa and Burgess Meredith in the NBC series “Search.”

O’Brian had a small role in John Wayne’s last film, Don Siegel’s “The Shootist” (1976), as the last character ever killed by Wayne on screen — O’Brian, a good friend of Wayne’s, considered it a great honor.

The actor reprised the role of Wyatt Earp for two episodes of the CBS series “Guns of Paradise” in 1989, and in the TV movies “The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw” (1991), starring Kenny Rogers, and CBS’ “Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone” (1994).

O’Brian did plenty of work outside the Western genre, appearing in the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Danny DeVito comedy “Twins” (1988) as one of several men who donated DNA that produced the “twins” and guesting on “Charlie’s Angels,” “Fantasy Island,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “L.A. Law.” He appeared in an Animal Planet adaptation of Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” in 2000.

Hugh Charles Krampe was born in Rochester, New York. Hugh lettered in a variety of sports.

He spent a semester at the University of Cincinnati but during World War II he dropped out to enlist in the Marine Corps — where his father had been an officer. At 17 he became the youngest Marine drill instructor, according to the TCM website.

After the war, O’Brian moved to Los Angeles to study at UCLA. He had started doing stage work, and was discovered by Ida Lupino, who signed him to appear as the second male lead in the polio drama “Never Fear,” which she had co-scripted and was directing; for O’Brian that film led to a contract with Universal Pictures.

He had a brief, uncredited role in the classic noir film “D.O.A.,” starring Edmond O’Brien, but he was soon — almost inevitably — doing Westerns, appearing in the Gene Autry vehicle “Beyond the Purple Hills” (1950); “Vengeance Valley,” starring Burt Lancaster and Robert Walker; Budd Boetticher’s “The Cimarron Kid” (1952), starring Audie Murphy; Raoul Walsh’s “The Lawless Breed” (1953), starring Rock Hudson and Julie Adams; Boetticher’s “Seminole,” also starring Hudson; Boetticher’s “The Man From the Alamo,” starring Glenn Ford; “Back to God’s Country,” also starring Hudson; Walsh’s “Saskatchewan” (1954), starring Alan Ladd and Shelley Winters; “Drums Across the River,” starring Murphy; Edward Dmytryk’s “Broken Lance,” starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner and Richard Widmark; and “White Feather,” starring Wagner and Debra Paget.

Occasionally he worked outside the Western genre, as in WWII actioner “Fighting Coast Guard” (1951); “On the Loose” (1951),  in which he had a supporting role as a doctor; “Son of Ali Baba,” starring Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie; the Douglas Sirk-directed musical “Meet Me at the Fair” (1953); the bizarre comedy “Fireman Save My Child” (1954), originally intended for Abbott and Costello; and the Ethel Merman musical “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” which also starred Donald O’Connor and Marilyn Monroe.

O’Brian dedicated a great deal of his life to a charitable effort he created himself in 1958, the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Foundation, a nonprofit youth leadership development program for high schoolers. The organization sponsors 10,000 high school sophomores annually through leadership programs in all 50 states and 20 countries.

The concept for the program was inspired by the nine days O’Brian spent visiting with humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa in 1958.

At the Golden Globes in 1954, O’Brian won for most promising newcomer – male (tied with Steve Forrest and Richard Egan).

O’Brian won a Golden Boot Award in 1991 (the awards, sponsored and presented by the Motion Picture & Television Fund, are bestowed upon those who have made significant contributions to the genre of Western television and movies).

He is survived by his wife, the former Virginia Barber, whom he married in 2006 at the age of 81.

More TV

  • Mira Sorvino Rory Culkin

    TV News Roundup: Mira Sorvino, Rory Culkin Join Quibi Series 'Emma'

    In today’s TV news roundup, Quibi announces new cast members for horror series “Emma” and Nickelodeon renews “Blue’s Clues and You!”  CASTINGS Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino and Rory Culkin have been cast in supporting roles in Quibi’s latest horror series “Emma.” The two are joined by Hannah Murray (“Game of Thrones”) and Michael Gaston (“Man [...]

  • Emilia Clarke

    Emilia Clarke Says She's Been Pressured to Do Nude Scenes After 'Game of Thrones'

    Emilia Clarke revealed that she’s been pressured to do nude scenes on projects following her role as the occasionally nude Daenerys Targaryen on “Game of Thrones.” Now a seasoned actor, Clarke is quick to shut down producers who won’t respect her boundaries. “I’m a lot savvier with what I’m comfortable with, and what I am [...]

  • CBS Makes Streaming News Available to

    CBS Makes Streaming News Available to Affiliates

    Any news junkie in need of a live-Information fix can toggle on to any number of streaming news outlets. Now, TV stations affiliated with CBS can do the same. CBS News told affiliates in a memo Tuesday that it would allow them to use live coverage from its CBSN streaming-video hub to keep news events [...]

  • Baby Yoda The Mandalorian

    The Star of 'The Mandalorian:' Baby Yoda

    SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers for the first two episodes of “The Mandalorian,” if wish to be surprised you do, only annoyance will you find.  BB-8 and the Ewoks can step aside with the latest expansion of the “Star Wars” universe with Disney Plus’s “The Mandalorian.” There’s a new addition to the long list [...]

  • Vikings S4 Finale

    'Vikings' Sequel Series Set at Netflix From Michael Hirst, Jeb Stuart

    Fans of the History series “Vikings” rejoice! Netflix has ordered the follow up series titled “Vikings: Valhalla,” which will be set 100 years after the conclusion of the original show. The sixth and final season of “Vikings” on History is set to debut on Dec. 4. “Valhalla” will be executive produced by “Vikings” creator Michael [...]

  • Olympics

    NBCUniversal Sets Molly Solomon to Oversee Olympics Production, Replacing Jim Bell

    NBC’s Tokyo Olympics has a new contestant. Molly Solomon, a veteran sports producer who has been with NBC since 1990, has been tapped as the new executive producer of NBCUniversal’s Olympics broadcast, one of the most important production jobs at the Comcast-owned media conglomerate. She begins her new role immediately, with just months to go [...]

  • Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci Join Showtime

    Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci Join Showtime 'Yellowjackets' Pilot

    Showtime’s “Yellowjackets” pilot is rounding out its cast. The network has announced that “Camping” star Juliette Lewis and original “Addams Family” actor Christina Ricci have boarded the project as series regulars, joining already announced cast members Melanie Lynskey, Tawny Cypress and Jasmin Savoy Brown. “Yellowjackets” tells the story of a team of talented high school [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content