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Pernell Roberts, last surviving 'Bonanza' cast member, dies

LOS ANGELES - Pernell Roberts, the ruggedly handsome actor who shocked Hollywood by leaving TV's "Bonanza" at the height of its popularity, then found fame again years later on "Trapper John, M.D.," has died. He was 81.

Roberts, the last surviving member of the classic Western's cast, died of cancer Sunday, his wife Eleanor Criswell said.

Although he rocketed to fame in 1959 as Adam Cartwright, eldest son of a Nevada ranching family led by Lorne Greene's patriarchal Ben Cartwright, Roberts chafed at the limitations he felt his "Bonanza" character was given.

Roberts agreed to fulfill his six-year contract but refused to extend it, and when he left the series in 1965, his character was eliminated with the explanation that he had simply moved away.

When Roberts left the show the feeling in Hollywood was that he had foolishly doomed his career.

Indeed, for the next 14 years he mainly made appearances on TV shows and in miniseries, or toured with such theatrical productions as "The King and I" and "Camelot." Then, in 1979, he landed another series, "Trapper John, M.D.," in which he played the title role.

The character was spun off from the Korean War comedy-drama "M*A*S*H," in which Wayne Rogers played the offbeat Capt. "Trapper" John McIntyre opposite Alan Alda's Capt. Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce.

In "Trapper John, M.D.," the Korean War was long past and Roberts' character was now chief of surgery at San Francisco Memorial Hospital.

Roberts was born in 1928 in Waycross, Ga. Three of his marriages ended in divorce. His first, to Vera Mowry, produced a son, Jonathan, who died in 1989 at age 37.- AP

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