According to The Hollywood Reporter, actor James Drury—star of the long-running Western TV show The Virginian—has died. He was 85, and he reportedly died from natural causes.
Drury was born in New York City in 1934 and studied drama at New York University before moving to Los Angeles and signing a deal with MGM in the ‘50s. He failed to land any particularly big roles, though, hopping around to other studios before eventually finding more success on television. Drury had one-off roles in Black Saddle, Death Valley Days, The Rebel, Bourbon Street Beat, and Perry Mason, with occasional appearances in Disney movies in the early ‘60s.
In 1962, Drury used all of that Western experience to land what would end up being his signature role—at least partially by virtue of the fact that he did it for nine years and hundreds of episodes—starring as the unnamed ranch foreman on The Virginian (an adaptation of Owen Wister’s novel of the same name). The show ran for 249 episodes before finally ending in 1971, making it TV’s third longest-running Western of all time (though its closest competition, Gunsmoke and Bonanza, lasted quite a bit a longer). The show also made the unorthodox format choice to make each episode 90 minutes long, with THR quoting Drury as saying that the extended runtime was only possible because of the “good stories and good writers.” It was also a predictably brutal schedule for the actors, with Drury once supposedly filming five different episodes over the course of a single day.
After The Virginian, Drury appeared in Firehouse, Alias Smith And Jones, The Young Warriors, and Walker, Texas Ranger. He also had a cameo in TNT’s 2000 revival of The Virginian, which starred Bill Pullman in the role Drury made famous.
Drury’s wife, Carla Ann, died back in August. The two had been married for 40 years.