16 beloved TV stars who passed away in the 1960s

Stars of The Flintstones and Star Trek left us too soon.

As the calendar turns to 2020, we are not only saying goodbye to the 2010s, but also to the 1960s. Throughout the past ten years, pop culture has continually celebrated the 50th anniversary of historic moments from that revolutionary decade, from the Beatles' debut on Ed Sullivan to man's first steps on the moon. The half-century mark just feels like a big moment to reflect back. The 60th anniversary? Not so much.

Which is why the next decade will likely be filled with celebrations of the 1970s. 

Before we hit the final "50th anniversary" moment of the Sixties, we wanted to look back at some of the beloved figures who passed away that decade. Television was still relatively new, remember. In many cases, networks did not know what to do when a star suddenly died. Some roles were recast. Others simply vanished. Others on this list we pioneers of 1940s and 1950s television. Let's take a look back.

1. Howard McNear


The Andy Griffith Show

Was there a more welcoming place in Mayberry than Floyd's Barbershop? It was the hangout downtown, where you were sitting in a chair under an apron or parked on the bench outside. Of course, the friendly presence of Floyd Lawson himself was part of the appeal. From 1961–67, Howard McNear brought the character to life, as warm and comforting as a hot towel. It would be his last major role. READ MORE

2. Jeffrey Hunter


Star Trek

Before there was a Captain Kirk, there was Captain Pike. Jeffrey Hunter portrayed the Enterprise captain in "The Cage," the first pilot episode of Star Trek. All the networks passed on the pilot, so the show was retooled and a second pilot was reshot — with William Shatner replacing Hunter in the lead role. Hunter would later appear on the series, however, when scenes from "The Cage" were edited into the episode "The Menagerie."

3. Sharon Tate


The Beverly Hillbillies

The murder of Sharon Tate has been the subject of countless true-crime retellings. What goes overlooked in her story is her recurring role on The Beverly Hillbillies. The Valley of the Dolls star honed her skills playing Janet Trego, a secretary at the Commerce Bank.

4. Bea Benaderet


The Flintstones, Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies

Speaking of the Hillbillies, Benaderet played two major roles in the "Hooterville" television universe of creator Paul Hennings. She was Cousin Pearl on The Beverly Hillbillies, and later took the lead role of Kate Bradley on the spin-off Petticoat Junction. Of course, her influence was not only seen but heard, as Benaderet brought Betty Rubble to life on the first four seasons of The Flintstones. The role was recast after her death.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Marion Lorne



Bewitched was hit with not one but two unfortunate deaths during its production. After the show's fourth season in 1968, Marion Lorne, who played Aunt Clara, died after suffering a heart attack at the age of 84. Curiously enough, Lorne was also posthumously honored with the same Emmy Award Alice Pearce (see below) won two years earlier. Lorne's character was not recast.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. Ann Sheridan


Another World, Pistols 'n' Petticoats

Sheridan began her career as a starlet of the silver screen. The Texas native appeared alongside icons such as Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Ronald Reagan. After dozens of movies, Sheridan shifted to television later in her career, notably as Katherine Corning on early seasons of the long-running soap Another World. Her final role was a recurring gig on the Western sitcom Pistols 'n' Petticoats.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. Walt Disney


Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color

What more can be said about the man who envisioned Mickey Mouse and the Magic Kingdom? Disney now stands as one of the largest entertainment brands on the planet. The empire was much humbler in Walt Disney's lifetime. On television, his major contribution was hosting his Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, the anthology series that has been known by many different names since its debut in 1954. Presents animated movies, live-acton family tales and educational content, The Wonderful World of Color was a technological pioneer in helping popularize stereo sound and color television.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. Eric Fleming



Clint Eastwood may be the face of Rawhide today, but that is mostly due to what he did in movies afterward. For the first seven seasons, from 1959–65, Eric Fleming was undeniably the star of the Western. When Fleming left Rawhide at the start of the eighth and final season, the cattle drive was over for all intents and purposes. The show sank (even more dramatically) in the ratings. Fleming's life grew only more tragic and bizarre from there. READ MORE

Image: The Everett Collection

9. William Frawley


I Love Lucy, My Three Sons

Frawley got a late start in acting. He worked a handful of random jobs into adulthood. He was a stenographer for a railroad company in Nebraska, a court reporter in Chicago. He later moved to St. Louis to work for another rail company. Finally, in 1933, at the age of 46, he scored a role in a comedy film called Moonlight and Pretzels, shot in New York City. The gig convinced him to pack up and move to Hollywood, where he signed a picture deal with Paramount. Of course, he would later transition to TV, playing iconic characters on both I Love Lucy and My Three Sons.

Image: The Everett Collection

10. Gertrude Berg


The Goldbergs

No, not that modern show called The Goldbergs. The original Goldbergs go back to the earliest days of television — and beyond. Berg, born Tillie Edelstein, was one of the first women to create, write, produce and star in her own hit radio program, The Rise of the Goldbergs. The title was shortened when it made the leap to television. The Goldbergs aired on TV from 1949 to 1956, mining laughter and drama from the life of a working-class immigrant.

Image: The Everett Collection

11. Alice Pearce



Pearce was diagnosed with terminal cancer before Bewitched started in 1964, a fact which the actress hid from producers. Towards the end of the show's second season, Pearce passed away from ovarian cancer. The role of neighbor Gladys Kravitz was recast, with Sandra Gould taking her place. For the show's second season, Pearce posthumously won an Emmy Award for her guest-starring role.

Image: The Everett Collection

12. Gracie Allen


The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show
1895 (perhaps)–1964

Bea Benaderet said of Gracie Allen, "She was probably one of the greatest actresses of our time." The longtime partner — in life and comedy — to her husband George Burns, Gracie took the familiar early-20th-century path to stardom from vaudeville to radio to movies to television. The funnywoman pulled brilliant stunts, like running for president in 1940. The sets of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show were built to look like the couple's real home. She was the sparkplug of the sitcom, generating huge laughs as George played the straight man.

Image: The Everett Collection

13. Will Wright


The Andy Griffith Show

As the richest and crankiest man in town, Ben Weaver was the Mayberry equivalent to Mr. Potter, the scrooge of It's a Wonderful Life. This parallel was most notable in "Christmas Story," the Capra-esque holiday episode of The Andy Griffith Show. Andy and Ellie sing "Away in a Manger," and the noel melts the icy heart of mean ol' Weaver. Wright is wonderful in the role. He would appear in two more episodes. Two more actors would later fill the role — Tol Avery and Jason Johnson.

14. Ernie Kovacs


The Ernie Kovacs Show

The New Jersey comedian is criminally overlooked. Just about all cutting-edge sketch comedy and late-night humor can be traced back to Kovacs, who utilized props, camera tricks, costumes and editing in brilliant, hilarious new ways. Perhaps he is best known for his frequent fill-in hosting of The Tonight Show during the Steve Allen era.

Image: The Everett Collection

15. Joan Davis


I Married Joan

Jim Backus, a.k.a. "The Millionaire" of Gilligan's Island, is the most recognizable face of I Married Joan, a hit 1950s sitcom. He even now overshadows Joan herself, Joan Davis, who was once dubbed "America's queen of comedy" in reruns. She broke big on radio, playing the owner of a tea shop in the comedy program Joan Davis Time. After the breakthrough success of I Love Lucy, networks looked for more of the same, and Davis was tapped to play a delightfully scatterbrained wife in I Married Joan.

Image: The Everett Collection

16. Leo Carrillo


The Cisco Kid

It's easy to forget that some of the actors in Westerns were actually born in the Wild West. Carrillo was born into a family of Southern California nobility — his ancestors were everything from governor to mayor to police chief in the Los Angeles area. At the age of 70, Carrillo, a former newspaper cartoonist, took the role of Pancho on The Cisco Kid television series. He had previously played the sidekick in several Cisco Kid films.

Image: The Everett Collection

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RobertM 23 months ago
Leo Carrillo was my late mother's favorite actor--once, in Santa Barbara, where she lived, she saw him riding a horse.
MrsP58 55 months ago
Well, correct me if you think I'm wrong (and I'm sure many will), but Jeffrey Hunter was a guest star on Star Trek. He was a movie star (King of Kings, No Man is an Island, etc.).
Runeshaper 56 months ago
WOW! So many wonderful actors & actresses referenced here. They are all missed & I'm sure will be for many years to come.
Wiseguy 56 months ago
#4 Petticoat Junction wasn't a spinoff of the Beverly Hillbillies even though they shared the same "universe." There wasn't really a connection until Granny visited Hooterville after Bea Benaderet's death. And Betty Rubble was not recast after Benaderet's death. The Flintstones wasn't even on in 1968. The part was recast in 1964.
Ilovelalaw 56 months ago
How could you not mention Ray Collins and William Talman from "Perry Mason"? Ray Collins died July 11, 1965 from emphysema and William Talman died August 30, 1968 from cancer. I'm still ticked off that, after Ray Collins left the series because his health was declining so badly, nothing more was said about his character, Lt. Arthur Tragg. It was like he never even existed. It really infuriates me the producers pulled this kind of nonsense.
Pacificsun Ilovelalaw 56 months ago
During the 60's it wasn't the rule to reference actors who departed a series (whether by death or other circumstances). Not that they're taboo subjects, just a different kind of "social civility" existed during those times. Entertainment was considered escapism (and was not as reality oriented as it is today). Nothing personal would be intended by the production company.
denny Ilovelalaw 56 months ago
The producers kept Ray Collins in the credits so he could keep his medical insurance long after he was able to perform.
Ilovelalaw denny 50 months ago
It's good to know they, at least, did that for him. I do remember seeing his name in the credits but I read someplace that they were doing it to try to keep his spirits up (so maybe the purpose was twofold?).
BrittReid 56 months ago
Sharon Tate...At the wrong place at the wrong time. She was beautiful.
BrianDaly BrittReid 56 months ago
No...it was charles manson who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Sharon had every right in the world to be where she would be.
BrittReid BrianDaly 56 months ago
Manson was not present at the time of her homicide.
cperrynaples 56 months ago
Interesting that you questioned Gracie Allen's birthdate, but then again according to George even SHE didn't know when she was born! She definitely died 6 years after retiring from show business, and I still watch her old shows on Antenna TV!
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