Pete Duel, a television actor best known for playing one of the titular leads on the hit Western television series Alias Smith and Jones. The actor was ahead of his time in many ways. In fact, he didn’t quite fit within the Hollywood sphere that he’d wound up in, preferring Broadway. Many consider this to be one of the reasons that Pete decided to take his own life during the height of his success. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at the year that ended Pete Duel’s life.
Pete Duel was born in Rochester, New York, on February 24, 1940. He was the first child of a doctor and his wife. They went on to have two more children, a son named Geoffrey and a daughter named Pamela. Early in his life, Pete aspired to be a pilot. However, vision issues made this dream impossible for him to achieve. Instead, the young man decided to set his sights on medicine.
Pete studied at Lawrence University in New York for two years before deciding that medicine wasn’t for him. During those two years, he had become incredibly active in the drama department. Pete acted in every single play that the department put on during his first two years in college. And this introduced the young man to his true passion: acting. Pete decided that he wanted to become an actor instead of a doctor. And spent his remaining years in school studying the art of theater instead of medicine. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at the year that ended Pete Duel’s life.
It was in 1962 that Pete landed his first legitimate acting gig outside of school. The gig a small part in a minor off-Broadway show that being performed at the Players Theatre in Greenwich Village. Pete subsequently began serving as an assistant stage manager for the theater. Pete remained within the theater scene for several years, even touring with Tom Ewell and the hit Broadway production Take Her, She’s Mine. Upon returning from this tour, Pete got the idea that he might like to try his luck at Hollywood.
Upon Pete’s arrival in Hollywood, he initially typecast in the role of a thug. However, an appearance on the television series Gidget offered Pete the chance to take on a much more affable role. This appearance led to Pete being cast as one of the leads in the sitcom Love on a Rooftop. The show only lasted for one season of 30 episodes, but it still offered the burgeoning star plenty of much-needed experience. As well as connections that would pay off in later years.
Pete made his debut on film in the 1968 feature The Hell with Heroes. Though the film was a failure with critics, Pete managed to impress Universal Pictures with his performance in it. Universal offered Pete a seven-year contract, which Pete decided to take. However, he didn’t end up in appearing in any more pictures for the studio before his death a few years later.
While it looked like Pete had some potential to eventually make it in the film business. Most of his roles were still coming from television productions. He appeared in numerous television programs throughout his short career. Acting as a guest star on shows such as The Virginian and The Fugitive. Eventually, ABC offered Pete one of the titular lead roles on a new show called Alias Smith and Jones. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at the year that ended Pete Duel’s life.
Alias Smith and Jones was a Western series that premiered on the ABC network in 1971. The series followed two train robbers that are offered amnesty in exchange for not committing any more robberies. Pete starred as Hannibal Heyes, whose alias was “Smith”. The show was a gigantic success, and allowed Pete to gain some mainstream notoriety. However, he wasn’t having a very good time.
Pete never much cared for television, simply taking the numerous television offers he received for the money. His true passion was acting on Broadway. And he felt that the demands of television were too strenuous for so poor of a product. The actor was never happy with how episodes of Alias Smith and Jones turned out. And was becoming increasingly miserable over the course of filming.
In August of 1971, Pete collapsed on set due to being sick with the flu. He subsequently sent home for the day, though he eventually returned. However, a later 1971 tragedy would see the actor leaving both the show and this world for good. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
Pete Duel an active Democrat, and had spent much of 1971 campaigning for Eugene McCarthy to the Democratic presidential nominee in the next year’s election. He was also an avid environmentalist, something that was almost unheard of at that point in time. Pete spent much of his free time perusing the California wilderness and picking up trash. And he lectured anyone that would listen on the importance of only purchasing recyclable materials. Whenever a fan asked Pete to sign an autograph, he would preface the autograph with “Peace and Ecology Now”.
In addition to environmentalism, Pete also had a second, and much less healthy, passion. That passion was alcohol. Pete was a heavy drinker, and often turned to alcohol as a means to escape his disenchantment with both Hollywood and the rest of society. Pete had arrested three times for drunk driving prior to his death, and intoxicated upon the night of his suicide. After Pete’s third arrest in December of 1971. He managed to eschew jail time by promising the judge that he was going to give up alcohol once and for all. A week later, he was dead.
Pete had volunteered to appear on a Christmas charity telethon being put together by Toys for Tots. On the set of the telethon, a decidedly poignant picture taken of Pete holding a toy pistol up to his head like he was about to pull the trigger. Pete had a habit of putting prop guns to his head on set when filming. And everyone around him simply thought it was a sly joke. However, this habit took on a completely different connotation after Pete’s suicide.
December 30, 1971, proved to be Pete’s final day filming Alias Smith and Jones. The remaining cast and crew have recalled that Pete seemed to be in exceptionally high spirits that day, though the reason for it continues to elude them. After filming for the day finished, Pete returned to his bungalow. His girlfriend at the time was a 29-year-old aspiring actress by the name of Dianne Ray, and she came over to stay the night. The two got drunk together and watched that night’s episode of Alias Smith and Jones, which Pete reportedly not too happy with. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at the year that ended Pete Duel’s life.
Whether as a result of his dissatisfaction with Alias Smith and Jones or something more personal, Pete wasn’t feeling too happy leading up to the morning of December 31. Him and Dianne said to have gotten into a fairly intense argument, and Dianne eventually gave up on her boyfriend and decided to go to sleep. Pete stayed up, and it’s likely that his mind was racing with more thoughts than anyone that knew him could have possibly comprehended.
Dianne recalls woken up by Pete silently staring at her from the foot of the bed. She didn’t say anything. Pete then went to the dresser and pulled out a package. Dianne wasn’t sure what the package was, but was hoping that it was some present that Pete had tucked away in case the two ever got into a fight. Sadly, Dianne was incorrect in her assumptions. Noticing that he had woken Dianne up, Pete apparently smiled at her and said “I’ll see you later”. He then took the box and went back out into the living room.
Only a few moments after Pete had left the room, Dianne heard a loud noise that she had initially assumed was some kind of firecracker. She got out of bed and came to check on Pete, only to find him lying on the floor under the Christmas tree in a pool of his own blood. There was a gun in his hand, and a hole in his head. Panicked, Dianne immediately called the authorities.
When the police came, they pronounced Pete dead. They initially hesitant to label the death a suicide, as Pete had known to open up his home to out-of-work actors with no other place to stay. It was possible that one such out-of-work actor could have been the culprit. However, it eventually became clear that the only two people that had been staying in the house that night were Pete and Dianne. The death finally labeled a suicide, and the part of Hannibal Heyes had to recast. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at the year that ended Pete Duel’s life.
Pete’s friends and family put together a memorial service that held only a few days after his death, on January 2, 1972. The service held at the Hindu-Christian Self-Realization Temple in Pacific Palisades, where the late Pete’s manager was an active member. His funeral held several days later, on January 5. The funeral held at the Baptist Church in Penfield, New York, back near Pete’s true home. Pete never satisfied with his life in Hollywood, and was always looking for an excuse to head back out to New York. Soon after his death, Pete got his wish.
Besides his most notable role as Hannibal Heyes on Alias Smith and Jones, Pete Duel also had plenty of other roles during his short career in Hollywood. Comment down below to share if you’ve got another favorite Pete Duel role, or if you wish that the actor could’ve stayed around. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!