Do you remember the classic Western series Rawhide? It was one of the best TV shows during the Golden Age of Television in the USA. To this day, it inspires many Western TV shows and films – and fans are eager to spread the word about the show to a new generation.
What made Rawhide a huge hit were the incredibly talented cast members. The show had a large ensemble cast – some of whom were on the show for almost all 8 seasons and others who left after a season or two.
Sadly, many of the main cast members who were on the show from start to finish have since passed away. They lived inspiring lives that we can all learn from as we pursue our own dreams…
Let’s learn about Rawhide and how each of the main cast members died…
Eric Fleming was born as Edward Heddy Jr. on the Fourth of July, 1925, in Santa Paula, California.
He had a troubled childhood. He was born with a club foot and was often the victim of brutal beatings from his father. As an eight-year-old, he even tried to kill his father using a gun. The gun jammed and Edward decided that it was best he escape from the family home.
He escaped to Los Angeles and then eventually settled in Chicago. Eric worked a series of odd jobs and even got involved in local gangs. He did whatever he could to make a quick buck. He once tried to list a 200-pound weight in order to win a bet. Eric failed miserably and injured himself – required plastic surgery for a facial reconstruction.
He realized he had to slow down in life and find a steady job. Eric soon returned to California and found a job as a carpenter at Paramount Studios. One day, he tried to audition for a role and made a bet with a professional actor that he’d win the role. He failed and had to cough up $100.
Losing this bet hurt Eric’s ego and led him to take up acting classes. He was now determined to become a professional actor.
Eric began his acting career on stage – eventually performing in a few Broadway plays. He also appeared in a few B-movies including Curse of the Undead and Queen of Outer Space. But his big break was when he was cast in the lead role of Gil Favor in the Western series Rawhide.
He played the role from the first to the seventh season and became a household name from the show. This would become the role he was most known for. He made only a few movie and TV appearances apart from his role in Rawhide.
He was cast in the two-part episode “High Jungle” for the TV show Off to See the Wizard – which was being filmed in Peru. Tragically, he and his co-star Nico Minardos were in a canoe that overturned. While Nico managed to swim to shore, Eric Fleming was swept away by the stream and drowned. He died on September 28, 1966, at the age of 41.
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Sheb Wooley was born on April 10, 1921, in Erick, Oklahoma. His father was a farmer and from a young age he learned how to ride horses and became a rodeo master in his teens. Little did he know that these skills would help him in his later acting career!
But he actually began his show business career as a musician. He performed in a country-western band called “Plainview Melody Boys.” In the 1940s, he supported himself as a welder and an oil worker – while performing in the band during his free time – living mostly in Texas.
In the 1950s, he decided to leave Texas to move to Hollywood with the hopes of becoming a professional entertainer full-time. It was around this time that the television industry was booming and Sheb also wanted to try his hand at acting.
He naturally gravitated toward Westerns – appearing in shows such as The Range Rider, The Lone Ranger, and The Adventures of Kit Carson. His big break was when he was cast as Pete Nolan on Rawhide. This was the show that made him a star and he even wrote and directed a few episodes.
He also managed to land roles in major feature films including Giant, The Black Whip, Ride a Violent Mile, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Hoosiers, and Purple People Eater. This last film was based on a famous song that he performed. Even as his acting career grew, he never stopped performing country and western songs.
A mention should be made that Sheb Wooley was the voice actor behind the famous “Wilhelm Scream” that you’ve definitely heard in several films.
He was sadly diagnosed with leukemia in 1996. He died from the illness in 2003 at the age of 82.
Paul Brinegar was born on December 19, 1917, in Tucumcari, New Mexico. He became interested in acting in his teens – and performed in high school plays. Paul later attended Pasadena Junior College and studied drama.
He eventually enlisted in the US Navy during the Second World War and served as the chief radio operator. Upon returning to civilian life, he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a radio repairman. In his free time, he sought out acting roles.
His first major acting role was in the 1948 film Larceny. He managed to land several bit parts in popular films and TV shows – though many of these roles went uncredited. However, he soon became known for his role in the popular Western series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.
But it was his role as George Washington Wishbone in Rawhide that made him a TV star. He was one of the few actors who appeared in all 8 seasons of the show. He became a well-known actor in Western TV shows and films.
His TV roles apart from Rawhide included Death Valley Days, Lancer, and Matt Houston. He also appeared in major films including Charro!, High Plains Drifter, Chattanooga Choo Choo, and Maverick. Paul also appeared in a few popular TV movies including Mann of Action, Crisis in Sun Valley, The Texas Rangers, The Young Landlords, and Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone – which was his final acting role.
He kept himself busy as an actor until the mid-1990s. He died from emphysema at the age of 77 in 1995.
Robert Cabal was born as Harold Christopher Ching on April 7, 1917, in Honolulu, Hawaii. He began his acting career in his 30s – with his first role as a “Muchacho” in the film Ride the Pink Horse – though this role went uncredited.
Nevertheless, he clearly showed an interest in Westerns from a young age – despite being born in Hawaii! He continued to take on bit parts in feature films throughout the 1940s. His first major film role was as “Joaquin Murietta” in the 1952 Western film The Man Behind the Gun. After that role, he kept himself busy in both film and television.
His best known film roles were in films such as Escape to Burma, Jungle Hell, Around the World in 80 Days, and The Women of Pitcairn Island. He also found roles in popular TV shows such as The Cisco Kid, Four Star Playhouse, Hopalong Cassidy, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Broken Arrow, The Millionaire, The Californians, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, The Big Valley, and Iron Horse – which was his final acting role in 1967.
But the role that he was most famous for was as “Hey Soos” in Rawhide. He played the character from the 1st to the 7th season. Robert retired from acting after 1967 and largely stepped away from the limelight.
He died in in 2004 at the age of 87. His cause of death hasn’t been disclosed.
James Murdock was born as David Lee Baker on June 22, 1931, in Normal, Illinois. When deciding on a stage name, he felt that the surname ‘Murdock’ would help him land ‘tough guy’ roles. He was absolutely right!
His first role was as a henchman in a 1958 episode of Have Gun – Will Travel. He followed this up with an uncredited role as a Deputy in a 1959 episode of Trackdown. But the show that made him a star was Rawhide – where he played the role of “Mushy” from season 1 to 7.
Rawhide was also the period when he was busiest with his acting career. He followed Rawhide with a few guest appearances in popular TV shows such as The Monroes, Gunsmoke, and Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theater.
James also had a few film credits in later life. He played “Clint” in the film Some of My Best Friends Are… and played the Reverend Bob Herron in Airport 1975. His final role was as an FBI Agent in The Godfather Part II.
He sadly died in 1950 due to complications from lung cancer and pneumonia in Calabasas, California.
Are you a fan of Rawhide?
Do you think that it’s still recognized as one of the best Western TV series? Or do you think that contemporary Westerns haven’t really been inspired by the show?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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