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How the Big Valley Cast Members Died

The Big Valley was an American Western drama series that ran for four seasons on ABC from 1965 to 1969. Set in the fictional Barkley Ranch in Stockton, California in the late 19th century, the series followed the lives of the wealthy Barkley family. While in today’s entertainment, the wealthy and powerful are often portrayed as villains, the Barkley family portrayed the most upstanding citizens of Stockton and were presented as role models, upholding justice, fairness. And sometimes going against popular opinion in order to fight for the underdog.

            The 1960s was the height of a “Western-craze” in television, with many dramas on TV taking place in the Old West. Big Valley was one of the more popular of this genre. In 1966 it ranked as one of the top-five favorite new shows amongst I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart, Lost in Space, and F-Troop. But despite its popularity at the time, its ratings never made it to the top 30 in the yearly ratings chart. By 1969, the Western craze began to wane and the series cancelled after four seasons. 

You may remember the series, but you likely didn’t keep up with actors who brought this Western to life. In this video, we’ll take a look back at who the big valley cast members were and how each of them died.

Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck was an iconic actress who had a 60-year career in film and television. She appeared in over 80 films, known for portraying strong-willed women. As one of Big Valley cast, she played Victoria Barkley, the widow of Thomas Barkley. Her character was the head of the fictional Barkley family and Stanwyck’s refusal to portray the character as fragile was controversial at the time. Stanwyck transformed the character from an elegant, lady-of-the-house to a tough jeans-wearing cowgirl.

She was born Ruby Stevens and her life had led her to be as tough in real life as she appeared on screen. Stanwyck had a troubled childhood. Her mother died when she was only four and her father abandoned her and her four siblings. Consequently, Stanwyck raised by her older sister, who was a showgirl. At the age of 9, she started smoking and by 14, she had dropped out of school. She began her career in show business at 15, becoming a chorus girl. Later this would lead her to her Broadway debut in 1926 as a cabaret dancer in The Noose.

Stanwyck changed her name and made the transition from Broadway to silver screen starlet in the late 1920s. Her breakthrough role came in 1930 with the film Ladies of Leisure. This role showed a progressive, stronger side of women that’s not often portrayed in films at the time and it led to a string of strong, female lead characters for her. Along with other Golden Age actresses like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Stanwyck helped to redefine the role of women in Hollywood.

After a long and successful film career (she made 85 films in 38 years) Stanwyck found her way to TV. Her role as the matriarch in The Big Valley made her one of the most popular actresses on television and earned her an Emmy. After the series’ cancellation, Stanwyck continued to play in TV roles for the rest of her career.

Stanwyck married twice, once in 1928 to her Burlesque co-star Frank Fay. The couple adopted a ten-month-old son in 1932. Fay was reportedly physically abusive to Stanwyck, especially when he had been drinking. Some claim that their union was the basis for the 1937 film, A Star is Born. The couple divorced in 1935 and Stanwyk won custody of their son. She remarried in 1939 to another co-star, Robert Taylor. Their marriage partly arranged by the film studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a common practice in the Golden Age of Hollywood. They mutually decided to divorce in 1950 and Stanwyck never remarried. One of her closest friends was Linda Evans and one Big Valley cast.

After a long career as both a Hollywood starlet and an emmy-winning television actress, Stanwyck spent her retirement years as active as ever, involved in charity work. Stanwyck died in 1990 at the age of 82 of congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

According to her wishes, her ashes scattered from a helicopter over Lone Pine, California, where some of her Western movies filmed.

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Richard Long

 Richard Long played the eldest son of the Barkley family, Jarrod Barkley. The character of a well-respected attorney and a veteran of the Union Army.

Richard Long started his acting career as a teenager after he caught the eye of a talent scout during a school play at Hollywood High School. He made his big screen debut in Tomorrow is Forever. He had a flourishing film career throughout the 40s until in 1950 he drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in the Korean War. Two years later, he honorably discharged. Upon his return, he continued his film career and starred in a dozen films from 1952 to 1964.

However, his personal life during this time had its fair share of hardships. In 1953, he met his future wife, Suzan Ball, Lucille Ball’s second cousin and an actress in her own right. They met shortly after she had been diagnosed with cancer after doctors discovered several tumors in her legs. Three months before their wedding, she lost her right leg to the cancer. The couple married in 1954, Ball walking down the aisle on an artificial leg. Several celebrities attended their wedding including Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, Jeff Chandler, Janet Leigh, and David Janssen. Sadly, the cancer came back, this time in her lungs and Long lost his wife after only 14 months of marriage.

Long began his television career in the detective series, Bourbon Street Beat. The show only ran for one season until it was canceled, but Warner Bros. shifted Long and his character to a different detective series, 77 Sunset Strip. It was the first time that a television character went from one series as a regular character to another. Over the years, Long guest-starred in a number of TV shows. Then in 1965, he found himself starring in another one: The Big Valley. Long expressed his love of the series, believing the characters had more emotional depth than what was typically depicted in TV series at the time.

After the cancellation of The Big Valley, Long went on to play several other memorable roles, mainly in Nanny and the Professor, which ran from 1970 to 1971. He starred in the series with Juliet Mills.

His personal life, however, continued to have its ups and downs. Two years after the death of his first wife, he married the model and actress Mara Corday in 1957. The Couple had three children together during their troubled marriage. Later in life, Corday said that Long couldn’t stand to see her work in the same industry as him. At one point, the producer of The Big Valley suggested that she do a guest appearance on the series with her husband but Long apparently refused to allow it. In 1961, Long was arrested after Corday accused him of attacking her while drunk.

That same year, some health issues began to become apparent in Long. When he was younger, he had suffered from pneumonia, which weakened his heart and caused him to have a heart attack in the 50s at a very young age. Though he recovered at the time, his heavy drinking and smoking caught up with him and in 1974 he had another heart attack. He spent a month in the hospital and died on December 21st, only four days after his 47th birthday.

Peter Breck

Peter Breck played the role of Nick Barkley, the hot-tempered middle child on The Big

Valley. In the series, he always wore a black leather vest, large black hat, and black leather gloves, and was distinguished by his loud demeanor. Though he played tough on the outside, the character could also be fun-loving and caring. A report stated that Breck was the fastest gun draw in Hollywood. His ability to draw his gun is said to have taken just 16/100th of a second, making his character as one of Big Valley cast the fastest shooter in TV history.

            The ruggedly handsome Breck played in several TV westerns throughout his career in addition to The Big Valley cast. He played the gunfighter Doc Holliday in ABC’s Maverick and played the starring role in NBC’s Black Saddle.

            After The Big Valley, he guest-starred in an impressive number of television shows throughout the 70s and 80s.

            Later, he moved to Vancouver and started his own acting school, The Breck Academy.

            Breck married dancer Diane Bourne in 1960. In 2010, his wife announced on his website that he had been suffering from dementia and that he would no longer be able to answer fan letters or sign autographs. Two years later, she announced he was hospitalized and that same year he died at the age of 82.

Douglas Kennedy

Douglas Kennedy portrayed the sheriff, Fred Madden, as one of The Big Valley cast. Kennedy was a character actor who played a number of supporting roles throughout his career, though he was occasionally a leading man. His specialty was Westerns which made him a great fit for his minor but recurring character on The Big Valley.

Kennedy died in 1973 of cancer at the age of 57 in Honolulu, Hawaii where he had been filming CBS’s Hawaii Five-O.

Napoleon Whiting

            Napoleon Whiting played the role of Silas, the Barkley’s majordomo, or the head servant of the household. Though it was a typecast role, it was also a highly visible one. In several episodes, his character demonstrated the trauma of slavery and what life was like for African Americans after the Civil War.

            Whiting played a lot of roles in his career, though unfortunately many were uncredited.

Whiting died in 1984. His cause of death was not reported. 

            Not all cast members of The Big Valley are dead. There are two surviving cast members. Continue watching to hear more about what the other stars of the series are up to today.

Lee Majors

            Lee Majors played the character Heath Barkley in The Big Valley, but he is also known today for his roles as Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man and Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy. He has been married four times, one of those times to Farrah Fawcett in the 70s.

            Majors is still alive today at the age of 82 and has never stopped working. His most recent role was in 2019 in the TV revival of Magnum P.I. and you can look for him in an upcoming film called Narco Sub. When he’s not working he spends time with his wife, Faith Cross, where they live in Houston, Texas.

Linda Evans

Linda Evans played the role of Audra Barkley in The Big Valley. She is known for a

variety of TV roles, especially her role in the 1980s hit Dynasty. During her time on The Big Valley, Barbara Stanwyck became a mother figure to her and they remained close until Stanwyck’s passing in 1990.

            Today Evans is 78 years old and recently started working again. She also often gives inspirational talks to young women. She’s currently single and reportedly very happy that way. She looks great for her age and has said that she doesn’t mind aging and would never trade her current wisdom to be young again.

That concludes our video about how each member of The Big Valley cast died. Were you a fan of The Big Valley? Do you remember these actors and actresses? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to like and subscribe for more videos like this one.

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