6 actors whose last role is their most famous
These performers left a lasting legacy with their most memorable characters.
Sometimes actors get lucky and hit it big with their very first role. Other times, it can take decades to find that special character they can bring to life in a memorable way. Whether through tragedy or retirement, a few famous names didn’t play their most well-known characters until the very end of their careers.
Here are six classic TV actors who left a lasting legacy with their final onscreen appearances. The roles that made them famous are also the very last ones they ever played.
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1. Milburn Stone as Doc Adams
Milburn Stone was 51 years young when he first started playing Doc Adams on Gunsmoke in 1955. Little did he know it would be the last acting job he would ever need. Stone had been in the business for decades before playing Dodge City’s ornery physician. He played bit parts and side roles in many Westerns and noir flicks throughout the 1930s and '40s. After suffering a heart attack in 1971, Stone left Gunsmoke temporarily to recover. He soon returned and stayed with the show until it ended in 1975. He then retired from acting and passed away in 1980 at the age of 75.
2. Ken Weatherwax as Pugsley Addams
Ken Weatherwax will always have a place in TV history as the original Pugsley Addams. In fact, Pugsley, who almost had a much stranger name, is virtually the only character Weatherwax ever played. Besides a small part as an unnamed boy in one Wagon Train episode, Pugsley was Weatherwax’s first and last real role. But the last episode of the 1960s sitcom wasn’t Weatherwax’s final time onscreen. He voiced the Addams son in some episodes of the 1973 animated series and appeared in the 1977 reunion special Halloween with the New Addams Family as Pugsley Sr.
3. Howard McNear as Floyd the Barber
For most of his career, Howard McNear was a go-to actor to play a clerk, a politician, a judge or any other small role in all kinds of TV shows throughout the 1950s and '60s. He voiced Doc Adams for the radio version of Gunsmoke, but his biggest claim to fame came in just another sitcom side-character, a barber. Of course, when that periphery character is on one of the most popular shows of all time, it can have quite the impact. McNear’s portrayal of Floyd the Barber in The Andy Griffith Show is a fan favorite. He continued to work on the series even after suffering a stroke which limited his mobility. He passed away one year after the show ended, leaving a memorable mark in his final role.
4. Dan Blocker as Hoss Cartwright
Dan Blocker was a teacher and PhD student before breaking into Hollywood. His imposing size and west Texas upbringing made him a natural fit for Westerns, which were the majority of his career. In the four short years between his very first acting gig and his famous final role in Bonanza, he appeared in Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, Maverick, The Rifleman and more. As middle Cartwright son, Hoss, Blocker brought humor and heart to one of the most popular Westerns of all time. His tragic untimely death after Bonanza’s thirteenth season meant the role that made him a household name would also be his last.
5. Raymond Burr as Perry Mason
Of course, Raymond Burr’s last role wasn’t on the original Perry Mason TV show. He led another successful crime show, Ironside, right after and continued to appear in other series and movies into the early 1980s. But in 1985, Burr returned to his most famous role and continued to play Mason in 26 television movies until his death in 1993. So, while Perry Mason the show was not Raymond Burr’s last role, Perry Mason the character was.
6. Ellen Corby as Grandma Walton
In a similar vein, Ellen Corby’s last time onscreen was as Grandma Walton, but not in the The Waltons TV show. She appeared in five of the six reunion movies, including the last one, 1997’s A Walton Easter. Like Milburn Stone before her, Ellen Corby began acting in her 20s playing small roles in films before hitting her stride as a character actress in TV. She played many mothers and grandmothers, including a memorable turn as Lurch’s mom in The Addams Family, then won her famous role as Grandma Walton at 61-years-old. Will Geer passed away during the show’s production but, technically, Grandpa Walton was not his last time on TV. He appeared in the Harriet Tubman miniseries A Woman Called Moses nine months after his last Waltons episode aired.
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