Pernell Roberts portrayed the oldest Cartwright son.
Adam had a University education, and tended to be less likely involved in wild antics or passionate love affairs, though he had his share of interesting scrapes over the years. Adam disappeared into parts unknown six years into the series, when Roberts decided to leave the show.
Pernell’s departure from the series prompted Johnny Carson to make a standing joke of him, but the two had opposite views on issues. To say the least, Carson was known to be mean-spirited to those who didn’t lean towards him. David Dortort didn’t “insist on a marriage” for Adam and wanted for Pernell to continue as a semi-regular, but there were more people involved and it was complicated.
In the end, Pernell was fired by NBC and was lucky he wasn’t blacklisted and sued, as legal action followed in the ensuing chaos. Dortort stated he was “too hard on Pernell and didn’t appreciate him.” In the aftermath, Pernell worked on stage and appeared as King Arthur in ‘Camelot’. He also appeared in several prestigious regional theaters, toured with Ingrid Bergman, stock companies and was a frequent guest star in television series. In the way of awards, he won a Drama Desk Award in 1955 for his performance in an off-Broadway rendition of ‘Macbeth.’ He was also nominated for an award at the Ivanhoe Theatre.
In 1979, CBS signed him in the lead role in ‘Trapper John: M.D.’ and came back in the limelight as a regular in television and was professionally recognized as an actor. The series was made through 1986 for a total of seven years. Today, it’s still seen in reruns around the world. In the early 90’s, he hosted and narrated ‘FBI: The Untold Stories’ during its short-lived run. Pernell also narrated a TV documentary in 1995 that was entitled ‘The Mountain Men’ and was a guest star in ‘Diagnosis Murder.’ He also sponsored an Indian scholarship fund with his ‘Bonanza’ co-star Lorne Greene in the 70’s and 80’s.
In 1999, Pernell married Eleanor Criswell and it was his fourth and final marriage. They met in Novato, California and he spent lots of his time living there and still resided in his Malibu home. In 2007, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was able to get surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments to prolong his life. The sad news came on January 24, 2010 when he succumbed to it. Eleanor was at his bedside when he died. Fans around the world mourned the tragic loss of the last surviving actor in ‘Bonanza’s’ original cast. He was 81.
Pernell was best remembered as Adam Cartwright and the last surviving member of the original cast. He lived long enough to witness the resurgence and renewed interest in Bonanza around the world. This included the wonders of the world wide web and successful conventions held in Los Angeles and Lake Tahoe, where hundreds of fans attended.
Those who admired and loved Pernell can take solace that in his final years, he was able to look back with fondness when he saw photographs and films from his Bonanza days. Pernell would smile when remembering his departed colleagues and acknowledge and appreciate the huge amount of admirers who were deeply touched by his performance and sense of morality.
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