Richard Farnsworth

Richard Farnsworth Biography

Richard W. Farnsworth (September 1, 1920 " October 6, 2000) was an American actor and stuntman. His film career began in 1937; however, he achieved his greatest success for his performances in The Grey Fox (1982) and The Straight Story (1999), for which he received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Early life

Farnsworth was born in Los Angeles, California, to a housewife mother and an engineer father. He was raised during the Great Depression. He lived with his aunt, mother, and two sisters in downtown Los Angeles after his father died when he was seven years old.


He was working as a stable hand at a polo field in Los Angeles for six dollars a week when he was offered a chance to make seven dollars a day plus a box lunch as a stuntman. In 1937, when he was sixteen, he started by riding horses in films such as The Adventures of Marco Polo with Gary Cooper. He performed several horse-riding stunts in such films as the Marx Brothers' A Day at the Races (1937) and Gunga Din (1939).

What differentiated Farnsworth from other western actors was his gradual transition into acting from stunt work. He made uncredited appearances in numerous films, including Gone with the Wind (1939), Red River (1948), The Wild One (1953), and The Ten Commandments (1956). He was on the set of Spartacus (1960) for eleven months. He laughed when he said he did not look like a gladiator but drove a chariot. However, it was not until 1963 that he finally received his first acting credit.

Farnsworth's acting career was largely in western films, although he did appear in the 1977 television miniseries Roots and the short-lived but critically acclaimed 1992 summer replacement The Boys of Twilight. He also appeared in television commercials. Farnsworth became well known in the Pacific Northwest for portraying the groundskeeper who saw the mythical "Artesians" in the 1980s Olympia Beer ad campaign. In 1979, Farnsworth was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Comes a Horseman. However, his breakthrough came when he played stagecoach robber Bill Miner in the 1982 Canadian film The Grey Fox, for which he won a Genie Award.

In 1985, he appeared in the Canadian miniseries Anne of Green Gables, winning a Gemini Award for his performance as Matthew Cuthbert. Another of his prominent roles was as a suspicious sheriff in the film version of Stephen King's Misery (1990). He also appeared as a baseball coach in The Natural in 1984.

In 1999, Farnsworth was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for The Straight Story. When David Lynch asked to see if he wanted to be in the simple but emotional movie The Straight Story, Farnsworth had no idea who he was. Farnsworth did not like violence or swearing, and so his agent was very careful to tell him that Lynch was the director who had made The Elephant Man. Fortunately, he liked this movie. When Farnsworth and Lynch met, he reiterated his dislikes. Lynch reassured him that there would be none of that in the movie. The role, a rarity for a man his age, showed Hollywood that "there's a lot of talent out there."

Farnsworth has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine Street. In 1997, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Personal life and death

Farnsworth was married to Margaret "Maggie" Hill for 38 years. She was the mother of his two children, Diamond and Missy. She died in 1985. Toward the end of his life, he met Jewly Van Valin on the bridle trail, a stewardess 35 years his junior. Farnsworth and Van Valin started riding together and were engaged. He was well liked and busy in his community of Lincoln, New Mexico, where he had a ranch and moved after his wife's death.

Farnsworth was the spokesman for the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium, an annual event in Ruidoso, New Mexico. He made a video with cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell called Buckaroo Bard. He also helped with the 'Last Great Cattle Drive of This Millennium' in 1999. Shortly before his death, he was presented with an award from the Governor of New Mexico for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts.

Farnsworth was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer in the early 1990s. By 1999, he had been diagnosed as having terminal bone cancer. He made the movie The Straight Story while in considerable pain. Not wanting to live his life in pain, Farnsworth committed suicide by shooting himself at his ranch in Lincoln, New Mexico. He is interred with his wife Margaret in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.


Year Title Role Notes
1937 ' Jockey (uncredited)
1938 ' Mongol Warrior (uncredited)
1939 Gunga Din Bit Part (uncredited)
1939 Gone with the Wind Soldier (uncredited)
1943 This Is the Army Soldier (uncredited)
1948 Red River Dunston Rider (uncredited)
1948 ' Minor Role (uncredited)
1949 Mighty Joe Young Cowboy (uncredited)
1953 Arena Cowboy (uncredited)
1953 Arrowhead Cavalryman (uncredited)
1953 ' (uncredited)
1955 ' Anchor Rider (uncredited)
1956 ' Chariot Driver (uncredited)
1957 ' (uncredited)
1957 ' Posse Man (uncredited)
1960 Spartacus Salt Mine Slave / Gladiator / Slave General (uncredited)
1963 ' Thug Short film
1966 Duel at Diablo Wagon Driver #1 (uncredited)
1966 Texas Across the River Medicine Man
1968 ' (uncredited)
1970 Monte Walsh Cowboy
1972 ' Henry Williams
1972 Pocket Money Man (uncredited)
1972 Ulzana's Raid Trooper
1972 ' Outlaw
1973 ' Walker
1973 Papillon Manhunter (uncredited)
1974 Blazing Saddles Sheriff (uncredited)
1975 ' Mover (uncredited)
1976 ' Stagecoach Driver
1976 ' Comanchero (uncredited)
1977 Another Man, Another Chance Stagecoach Driver
1977 Roots Slave Catcher
1978 Comes a Horseman Dodger National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor (tied with Robert Morley in Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?)
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor (2nd place)
1980 Tom Horn John C. Coble
1980 Ruckus Sheriff Jethro Pough
1980 Resurrection Esco
1981 ' Wild Bill Hickok
1982 ' Bill Miner Genie Award for Best Performance by a Foreign Actor
London Film Critics Circle Award for Actor of the Year (tied with James Mason in The Shooting Party)
Taormina Film Fest: Golden Mask
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actor " Motion Picture Drama
1982 Waltz Across Texas Frank Walker
1983 Independence Day Evan
1984 ' Red Blow
1984 Rhinestone Noah
1985 Into the Night Jack Caper
1985 Sylvester Foster
1985 Space Rage Colonel
1988 ' Percy
1990 ' Earl Rawley
1990 Misery Buster
1990 Havana Professor
1991 Highway to Hell Sam
1994 ' Slim
1994 Lassie Len Collins
1999 ' Alvin Straight Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival: Best Actor
Independent Spirit Award for Best Male Lead
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated - Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
Nominated - Chlotrudis Award for Best Actor
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actor " Motion Picture Drama
Nominated - Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor
Nominated - Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor (2nd place)
Nominated - Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor
Nominated - Satellite Award for Best Actor " Motion Picture Drama
Nominated - Southeastern Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor (2nd place)
Year Title Role Notes
1951 ' Henchman (uncredited) Episode: "Fury at Red Gulch"
Episode: "The Desperate Sheriff"
1954 ' Army Wagon Driver Episode: "The Gatling Gun"
1955 Soldiers of Fortune Gaucho (uncredited) Episode: "The General"
1956 Zane Grey Theater Trooper Episode: "Star Over Texas"
1958 Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok Butler Episode: "Jingles on the Jailroad"
1958 Cimarron City Ira Youngman (uncredited) Episode: "Twelve Guns"
1959 State Trooper Caleb Smith Episode: "Lonely Valley"
1959 ' Trooper Episode: "Yellow Hair"
1960 Wanted: Dead or Alive Rance
Episode: "The Partners"
Episode: "To the Victor"
1960 Laramie Gault Ranch Hand
Manley (uncredited)
Episode: "Street of Hate"
Episode: "Ride into Darkness"
1961 Laramie Hank Episode: "The Tumbleweed Wagon"
1965 ' Bolin Episode: "The Odyssey of Jubal Tanner"
1966 ' Businessman Episode: "Image of Yesterday"
1967 Cimarron Strip Dusty Rhodes
Episode: "Journey to a Hanging"
Episode: "The Battleground"
1970 ' Lloyd Episode: "The Long Shadow"
1971 Bonanza Sourdough Episode: "Top Hand"
1972 Bonanza Tate
Episode: "The Saddle Stiff"
Episode: "He Was Only Seven"
1974 Honky Tonk Driver TV movie
1975 Strange New World Elder TV movie
1977 Roots Slave Catcher TV miniseries
1977 Little House on the Prairie Wall Episode: "Quarantine"
1981 ' Ranger J.W. Stevens TV movie
1981 ' Jason Stayvey TV movie
1981 ' Ridge Fenton TV movie
1983 Travis McGee Van Harder TV movie
1983 Ghost Dancing Russ Ward TV movie
1985 Wild Horses Chuck Reese TV movie
1985 Chase Judge Grand Pettitt TV movie
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor " Series, Miniseries or Television Film
1985 Anne of Green Gables Matthew Cuthbert TV movie
Gemini Award for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor
1987 CBS Summer Playhouse Carl Episode: "Travelin' Man"
1987 Highway to Heaven Grandpa Jet Sanders Episode: "A Dream of Wild Horses"
1989 Red Earth, White Earth Helmer TV movie
1989 Desperado: The Outlaw Wars Sheriff Campbell, Bisby Arizona TV movie
1992 ' Cody McPherson TV series
1993 ' Frank Morgan TV movie
1998 Best Friends for Life Will Harper TV movie

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