BURBANK, Calif. – Actor Dan Haggerty, known for his performance on “Grizzly Adams”, died at age 73 early Friday. The news came from his manager and longtime friend Terry Bomar. After 5 months fighting spine cancer, he passed away at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.

Haggerty was preceded in death by his second wife Samantha and left five children and a grandson in Los Angeles. He played a gentle man with a beard and a bear called Ben in the 1974 movie “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams” and the NBC sitcom of the same name, based on the novel by Charles Sellier Jr. The story was about a California man falsely accused of murder who flees to the woods even though he is innocent. While on the run, he starts a kind of relationship with the animals around him and domesticates an orphaned bear.

Dan Haggerty posing with a bear. Photo: NBC
Dan Haggerty posing with a bear. Photo: NBC

The actor had been working in Hollywood as a stuntman and animal handler when a producer asked him to act in some opening scenes he was reshooting for the film about a woodsman and his domesticated bear. Haggerty agreed but with the condition that he could play the entire movie. The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams was remade for $165,000 and then took in at least $30 million at the box office. It was eventually adapted for television series.

When describing the story for a review of the first episode in The New York Times, John Leonard said “it lukewarms the heart”.

“Man and bear hide out in a log cabin, to which Mad Jack (Denver Pyle) and the noble red man Makuma (Don Shanks) bring flour and advice. When they leave the cabin, man traps fur while bear washes his. Meanwhile, there are raccoons, owls, deer, rabbits, hawks, badgers, cougars, a lot of communing with nature and a big lump in the throat”, Leonard wrote.

The sentimental series made Haggerty win the People’s Choice Awards in 1978 as the most popular actor in a new series.

In real life, Haggerty lived on a small ranch located in Malibu Canyon with a bunch of wild animals he had either rescued from injury or tamed at birth. Aside from his occasional film work, his skills allowed him to work as an animal trainer and stuntman on the TV series “Daktari” and “Tarzan”. In 1978, he told People magazine that actors weren’t comfortable with animals leaping on them.

Source: New York Times