Less than two weeks after he mustered the strength to attend the unveiling of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, actor Denver Pyle has died of lung cancer. He was 77.
Pyle played the grizzled, good ol’ boy Uncle Jesse on “The Dukes of Hazzard” after years of tackling character roles in films and spaghetti westerns. He died Thursday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank.
“Denver was just bigger than life in his career, his charity work,” said Tippie Pyle, the actor’s wife, who spoke Saturday of “the Denver Pyle touch.”
Pyle’s lanky frame brought a Western authenticity to parts in such movies as “The Alamo,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Cahill--United States Marshal.”
Pyle, originally from Bethune, Colo., was a veteran of TV, playing Caleb on “Gunsmoke” and Mr. Darlin’ on “The Andy Griffith Show.” He also was a cast member on “The Doris Day Show” in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, and “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams” in the ‘70s. Pyle also appeared in the popular series “Bonanza.”
On “The Dukes of Hazzard,” which ran from 1979-85, Pyle played a cranky but good-hearted relative who offered sage advice to two Southern country cousins--Bo and Luke Duke--as they crossed paths with the law in their souped-up car. Pyle appeared in a “Dukes” reunion TV movie this year.
“We were as much a real family as any blood family that there has ever been,” said John Schneider, who played the tall blond Bo on “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
Schneider said that “kind of like in the ways of the old West,” Pyle prepared himself in recent months to face cancer and its consequences.
“He enjoyed Uncle Jesse of ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ the most,” Tippie Pyle said. “The one he thought was his best part was in ‘Bonnie and Clyde.’ He played Frank Hamer, the Texas ranger that pursued them.”
In recent years, Pyle turned personal appearances as Uncle Jesse into fund-raisers for children’s charities.
“You’d just send him a plane ticket and give him a place to sleep, and he would be there,” Tippie Pyle said.
Pyle was not scheduled to speak at the Dec. 12 ceremony honoring him with a Hollywood star, but he did so anyway. As 300 fans looked on, Pyle reminisced about his first visit to Hollywood with his brother Willie.
“Willie pointed out the stars to me and said, ‘Someday you’ll be a part of this street,’ ” Pyle said. “I didn’t know it then, but I guess I am now. I’ll see you down the road.”
Pyle is survived by his wife and two sons.
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be made to the Denver Pyle Scholarship at Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Ky. Funeral arrangements are pending.