Pernell Roberts of 'Bonanza' and 'Trapper John, M.D.' dies at 81

Pernell Roberts, best known for his roles on Bonanza and Trapper John, M.D., died Sunday in his Malibu home after a battle with cancer, his wife, Eleanor Criswell, told the Los Angeles Times. He was 81.

The Georgia-born Roberts, who served in the Marines, began his career on the stage, winning a Drama Desk award in 1955 for his performance in a production of MacBeth. He would find TV fame in 1959 as the responsible Adam Cartwright—the eldest of the Cartwright sons—on the hit Western Bonanza. Leaving the show after the sixth season—he’d feuded with the show’s producers—Roberts returned to the stage, acted in films, and guest-starred on a variety of TV series (Mission: Impossible, Marcus Welby, M.D., Hawaii Five-O). In 1979, he scored again with the medical drama Trapper John, M.D., in which he played Dr. “Trapper” John McIntyre, a character spun off from M*A*S*H. The show lasted seven seasons.

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  • Terry

    It seems so weird that I was just thinking about him, having just read your 50 biggest bombs article on his leaving Bonanza. I was wondering whatever happened to him after Trapper John.

    • imastarrah44

      So sorry to hear about Pernell Roberts death. I enjoyed him so much on Trapper John MD. My heartfelt condolences to his wife and family.

    • Sina

      I just came to this site and when i read that I said the same thing. Right after he was mentioned as actors who left the show too early he dies.

  • skynr59

    The Cartwright rest in peace !

  • SarahES

    HUGE teenage crush. Condolences to his family and RIP Pernell. No Cartwrights left with us. Long live the Ponderosa online.

    • kahuna

      I had a little girl crush on Adam Cartwright. I was heartbroken when he left the show and pined for him for years afterwards.

  • AcaseofGeo

    As a child I liked only the Bonanza episodes that featured Adam and I really enjoyed Trapper John M.D. too. I’m sorry for his family.

  • Jean Genie

    Now all four of the Cartrights are gone, & time keeps marching on …

  • KLT

    I was just thinking of him today when I read about Brian Stokes Mitchell (Trapper John M.D. co-star) here on this website. What a man! He will be missed.

  • chattypatra

    This makes me sad. To this day, we still watch Bonanza. Growing up I never missed an episode of Trapper John and I was enamored of his beautiful voice. My condolences to his family and friends.

  • Lisa

    I love Adam Cartwright! This is so sad. All the actors from a better era are leaving us now. RIP

  • Daddy Grace Fish Sandwich

    Lisa, you are correct. It seems like all the great entertainers are passing away. Unfortunatley, no one lives forever and we too will die someday. I look forward to my death, because I am living in hell on earth.

    • G

      so sorry to hear that

    • Kyle Bowers

      I feel the same way

    • @DGFS

      I truly sympathize with you, and hope that you will find the Way, because the hell that follows hell on earth is forever.

  • Scott

    As others have posted for us that grew up on Bonanza, rest in peace to the final Cartwright. He outlived Dan Blocker and later Michael Landon by quite a few years..

  • Shane

    No one would ever believe this but when I was a kid I had an album by Pernell Roberts! He mostly sang country music and I used to listen to it all the time and loved it! Its one of my most “you will never beleive….”stories that always makes people laugh, but its true. RIP Adam.

    • Vnova

      I believe it. He had a very nice baritone voice – I remember it from when he sang on an episode of The Odd Couple.

  • Blue Silver

    My deepest condolences go out to Mr. Roberts’ family! May he rest in peace!

  • Thespian Libby

    Goodnight, sweet Prince….and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest…….

  • Chris

    Semper Fi Devil Dog, I know that you are standing post at heavens gate. I remember watching Bonanza.

  • Brett

    Whats Bananza?

    • CMU

      Oh my gosh. The internet is your friend. IMDB is a wonderful resource.

      • Mary

        Sorry it took so long to express my thoughts, but Pernell Roberts will be sorely missed! Its great that he will live on in Bonanza & Trapper John MD reruns. A super fan.

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