PASSINGS: Don Matheson, Alan Dixon, James Turk

PASSINGS: Don Matheson, Alan Dixon, James Turk
Don Matheson, shown in 1975, starred on "Land of the Giants." His earliest TV credits include appearances on "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" and "McHale's Navy" in 1962. (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Don Matheson, 84, a veteran television actor best known for his portrayal of one of the humans stranded on a mysterious planet on the science-fiction series "Land of the Giants," died June 29 in Woodland Hills. His daughter, Michele Matheson, said he had lung cancer and congestive heart failure.

Matheson played tycoon Mark Wilson, a passenger on a suborbital spaceship bound for London that gets caught in a "space warp" and crashes on a planet ruled by giants.


Set in 1983, the show aired on ABC from 1968 to 1970 and also featured Gary Conway, Don Marshall and Deanna Lund, whom Matheson later married.

Created and produced by Irwin Allen, the hourlong 20th Century Fox series was one of the most expensive ever made, reportedly costing $250,000 per episode.

Matheson was born in Dearborn, Mich., on Aug. 5, 1929. A high school dropout, he was a criminal investigator in the Marines during the Korean War and later joined the Detroit Police Department.

He became interested in acting while investigating a crime at a Detroit theater. The actors he saw there "looked like they were having so much fun, it did something to him," his daughter said, "so he asked, 'By the way, how do I get involved here?'" Before long, he was appearing in its productions.

His earliest television credits include appearances on "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour" and "McHale's Navy" in 1962. He went on to a recurring role on "General Hospital" as well as other Irwin Allen series, including "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and "Lost in Space."

His 1970 marriage to Lund ended in divorce after 10 years but the two remained close, living near each other in Century City for more than 20 years, Michele Matheson said.

Alan Dixon

Former U.S. senator from Illinois

Former U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon, an Illinois Democrat whose career in national and state politics spanned more than 40 consecutive years in public office, died Sunday at his home in Fairview Heights, Ill., the day before his 87th birthday, his son Jeffrey said.

A cancer survivor, Dixon had recently been hospitalized for heart problems and had been battling infections, but his condition had improved and he'd returned home, his son said. No official cause of death was released.

Dixon, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1981 to 1993, got an early start in politics. After being elected police magistrate in Belleville, he won an Illinois House seat in 1950. He went on to serve in the Illinois Senate and as the state's treasurer and secretary of state. He won his U.S. Senate seat in 1980 and served there until his surprising loss in the 1992 Democratic primary to Carol Moseley Braun.

Dixon was remembered this week for winning nearly every election he sought, as a leader who could bring Republicans and Democrats together — starting the first bipartisan Illinois congressional lunches — and his local approach to politics even as a U.S. senator. His style earned him the nickname "Al the Pal." He returned constituent calls himself and was accessible to the public with weekend office hours.

In the U.S. Senate, Dixon served as the third-ranking Democrat and chaired a subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee. He had served in the Navy Air Corps.

Among Dixon's more controversial moves — which later led to his defeat — was voting to support the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991 after law professor Anita Hill claimed Thomas had sexually harassed her. Braun, who had served as a Cook County recorder of deeds, said she challenged Dixon because of her outrage over the treatment of Hill during the confirmation hearings. Braun became the first African American woman in the U.S. Senate. Dixon later defended his vote by saying that Thomas was qualified and that he doubted Hill.


Born July 7, 1927, in the southern Illinois town of Belleville, Dixon received a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois and a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He returned to practicing law after his 1992 loss.

James Turk

U.S. district judge

U.S. District Judge James Turk, 91, who struck down a Virginia policy that allowed prisoners to look at Playboy but not read classical works of literature with explicit sexual passages, died Sunday at his home in Radford, Va., according to De Vilbiss Funeral Home.

Turk was appointed to the U.S. District Court's Western District of Virginia by President Nixon in 1972 and became a senior judge in 2002. He never retired, continuing to work on notable cases throughout his final years.

In the prison literature case, an inmate sued after he was denied access to the novels "Ulysses" by James Joyce and "Lady Chatterley's Lover" by D.H. Lawrence. Prison officials had argued that those sexually explicit materials were "considered valuable currency and used in bartering" by inmates, and that the possession of such items could lead to theft and fights.

The judge disagreed.

"Particularly with respect to 'Ulysses' it is impossible to even imagine prison inmates fighting for the chance to delve into the incredibly difficult to decipher novel, one metaphor-laden scene of which portrays exhibitionist behavior and masturbation," Turk wrote in his 2010 ruling.

In another case, Turk dismissed a lawsuit in 2011 filed by a Virginia inmate who wanted the state to pay for a sex-change operation. A three-judge panel of the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to Turk in 2013, saying Ophelia De'Lonta's case was entitled to a full hearing.

Turk ruled that the prison system was adequately treating her by providing counseling and hormone treatments and allowed her to dress as a woman in a men's prison. She was paroled earlier this year.

Born May 3, 1923, in Roanoke, Va., Turk was an Army veteran and a graduate of Roanoke College and Washington & Lee University School of Law. He served in the Virginia Senate from 1959 to 1972.

Times staff and wire reports