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'Davy Crockett' actor Fess Parker dead at 85

Actor Fess Parker, who became the idol of baby boomers in the 1950s and launched a craze for coonskin caps as television's Davy Crockett, died Thursday of natural causes. He was 85.

A family spokeswoman said Parker, who was also TV's Daniel Boone and later a major California winemaker and developer, died at his Santa Ynez Valley, Calif., home.

The first installment of "Davy Crockett" debuted in December 1954 as part of the "Disneyland" TV show. And the 6-foot, 6-inch Parker was quickly embraced by youngsters as the man in a coonskin cap who stood for the spirit of the American frontier. Boomers gripped by the Crockett craze scooped up Davy lunchboxes, toy Old Betsy rifles and trademark fur caps. "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" was a No. 1 hit for singer Bill Hayes; Parker's own version reached No. 5.

The first three television episodes were turned into a theatrical film, "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier," in 1955. True to history, Disney killed off its hero in the third episode, "Davy Crockett at the Alamo," where the real-life Crockett died in 1836 at age 49. But spurred by popular demand, Disney brought back the Crockett character for some episodes in the 1955-56 season.

Parker's career then leveled off before he made a TV comeback from 1964 to 1970 in the title role of the adventure series "Daniel Boone."

After "Boone," Parker largely retired from show business, except for guest appearances, and went into real estate.

"I left the business after 22 years," Parker told The Associated Press in 2001. "It was time to leave Hollywood. I came along at a time when I'm starting out with Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Sterling Hayden and Gregory Peck. Who needed a guy running around in a coonskin cap?"

Fess Elisha Parker Jr. was born in Fort Worth, Texas. The actor made his motion picture debut in "Springfield Rifle" in 1952. His other movies included "Them!" (1954) and "Old Yeller" (1957), among others.

He later bought and sold property, built hotels (including Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn & Spa in Los Olivos and Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort Santa Barbara) and grew wine grapes on a 2,200-acre vineyard on California's Central Coast.

Funeral arrangements will be announced later.

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