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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 Angelesmarker, Californiamarker 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 $6 a week, when he was offered a chance to make $7 a day plus a box lunch as a stuntman. When he was seventeen, he started by riding horses in films in 1937, in The Adventures of Marco Polo with Gary Cooper. He performed in 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 television commercials. Farnsworth became well known in the Pacific Northwest for portraying the grounds keeper who saw the mythical "Artesians" in the 1980s Olympia Beer ad campaign. In 1979, Farnsworth was nominated for the 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 in The Natural in 1984.

In 1999, he was nominated 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 and told 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 Famemarker 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, Oklahomamarker.

Personal life and death

Farnsworth was married to Margaret "Maggie" Hill for 38 years. She is 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 spokesperson 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 Mexicomarker for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts .

Farnsworth was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer in the early 90s. 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 via a self-inflicted shotgun wound at his ranch in Lincoln, New Mexicomarker. He is interred with his wife Margaret in the Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemeterymarker in Los Angeles, Californiamarker.



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