Raymond Burr was Perry Mason until the very end
Burr was noticeably different on set, saving all of his energy to be the best Perry Mason possible.
When speaking of Perry Mason, it's hard not to think of the legendary courtroom drama star who portrayed the character, Raymond Burr.
Burr is synonymous with Mason. The actor gave up a lot of his time and, in ways, even his house, to best portray the character, devoting endless hours, days, weeks and months to perfecting his craft.
Burr began playing Perry Mason in the network television drama in 1957, and morphed the character into a legendary one over the next nine years.
Almost 20 years after the TV series ended, Burr revived his career-defining role as Perry Mason in the TV film series, which featured 30 films, 26 of which starred Burr as the title character.
In 1993, Burr lost his battle with kidney cancer, and couldn't complete the entire film series, one that stretched from 1985 to 1995. In the wake of Burr's death, there were several questions surrounding the continuation of the TV film series, mainly; who steps in as Perry Mason now?
The answer to that question was nobody.
Dean Hargrove, producer of the film series, admitted in a 1993 Los Angeles Times newspaper article that there wasn't a clear path for the series, but one thing was certain.
"At the moment, there are no specific plans in terms of continuing the franchise," he said. "Certainly, the first thing is that no one's going to try to replace Raymond Burr."
How could anyone replace him? Though Perry Mason was created before Burr played the character, Burr's portrayal of the lawyer would become the standard, and it was hard to imagine anybody else filling the role. Burr knew that too, which is why he poured his heart and soul into the character.
"Raymond always operated on the premise that he was going to live forever," Hargrove said. "He was a very forceful personality, and he decided he was going to do Perry Mason until people stopped watching them."
Unfortunately, that dedication wasn't helping his heath issues, which began taking their toll towards the end of his life. Even so, he mustered up all the energy he could, to go as long as he could.
"When he got to [the location of his final episode], he didn't feel as well as he hoped he would feel..." Hargrove said. "When he was on the set, he would not have any casual discussions with anyone so he could save all his energy for his performance."
Burr's contributions to the character were too strong to continue the film series beyond the 30 initial installments. However, the final four still needed to air. As a result, the Perry Mason TV film series concluded with actors Paul Sorvino and Hal Holbrook starring in place of Mason, but not as Mason.
Sorvino's character, Anthony Caruso, was a visiting attorney who starred in the first film after Burr's death, while Holbrook played Bill McKenzie in the final three films, all of which were branded as A Perry Mason Mystery, followed by the film title.
It was a testament to Burr's hard work, dedication and determination that even after his death, the legendary character of Perry Mason wasn't swiftly replaced with another actor.