Fans of old television westerns are in mourning this week after Hugh O’Brian, known for playing the quick-drawing Wyatt Earp in the 1950s, passed away on Monday at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was 91 years-old.
The New York Times reported that O’Brian’s death was confirmed by his foundation HOBY, originally known as Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership.
O’Brian first arrived in Hollywood in 1947 with plans to return to college and eventually attend law school. Instead, he randomly broke into show business when he escorted an actress to a rehearsal for a play and ended up with a part for himself, filling in for an actor who was sick. He starred in his first film, “Never Fear,” in 1949 and a contract with Universal-International Pictures soon followed.
O’Brian spent much of his early years with secondary roles in westerns like “Beyond the Purple Hills” (1950), “The Cimarron Kid” (1952) and “Seminole” (1953). His big break came in 1955 when he landed the title role on “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,” which remained on television until 1961.
The actor went on to reprise the role of Earp many times in his career, most notably in the 1991 television movie “The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw,” a vehicle for the singer Kenny Rogers, and “Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone,” a 1994 CBS television movie.
O’Brian continued acting in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s with guest starring roles on television shows like “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Fantasy Island” and “Murder, She Wrote.” In addition, he was a noted philanthropist who started the foundation Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, a nonprofit organization that presents seminars that prepare high school students to “become positive catalysts for change.”
He is survived by his beloved wife Virginia Barber and his brother Don Krampe, a co-founder of his foundation and an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Senate in this year’s California primary.
When interviewed in 2010, O’Brian made it clear what his main priority was in life.
“I care first and foremost very, very much about this country,” he said, “and everything I’ve done in that area is trying to put something back into this country.”