One of the leading faces on the classic westerns shows from the ’60s to ’80s was larger than life personality, Chuck Connors. Although originally an athlete, Connors is today famed for his role as Lucas McCain in the hit ABC series The Rifleman. In his forty-year career, Connors appeared in over 130 films and Television series, making him one of the Hollywood legends with the most appearances and filming hours under his belt. Asides acting, Chuck Connor is also an accomplished writer of impeccable strokes. As his career grew, the father of four later gave his time to charitable causes and used his influence to raise money for disabled children through golf tournaments. Let’s dig deep into the life of one of the greatest actors of all time.
Who was Chuck Connors?
Chuck Connors was born—Kevin Joseph Aloysius Connors—in Brooklyn, New York on Sunday, April 10, 1921, to parents Alban Francis “Allan” Connors and Marcella Connors (née Londrigan). They were Canadians immigrants who had Irish ancestry. As the elder of two children, Connors and his younger sister, Gloria, were raised as Roman Catholics. He served as an altar boy at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Brooklyn. According to sources, Connors spent the better part of his childhood in Brooklyn where he attended elementary school.
From an early age, Chuck Connors showed adeptness in athletics and was a devoted fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers of Major League Baseball. In time, he earned a scholarship to the Adelphi Academy, a preparatory school in Brooklyn, where he graduated from in 1939. He then proceeded to Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey where he played both basketball and baseball for two years before going into professional baseball. While in the school, he changed his first name to Chuck, a nickname that stuck to him for his repeated use of the word during play in the baseball team.
His Early Career Pursuits (Baseball, Military, and Basketball)
Connor played on two minor league teams in 1940 and 1942 before enlisting in the Army at Fort Knox, Kentucky when the United States joined World War II in October 1942. Four years later, Connor successfully hung his military uniform and joined the then newly formed Boston Celtics of the Basketball Association of America. However, things did not go as expected as Chuck Connors played 53 lackluster games before leaving the team at the onset of the 1947-48 season. Several sources quote loss of enthusiasm for the sports and/or the effects of the war, as reasons he left. He took to the bats once again and played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949 and the Chicago Cubs in 1951 before leaving athletics for acting.
Chuck Connors’ Acting Career
In a career that would span four decades, Connors appeared both on the small and big screens. The Brooklyn born began his film career in 1952 with an appearance in Pat and Mike and the following year, he starred in South Sea Woman and then opposite John Wayne in Trouble Along the Way. He played the titular role in the 1962 western film and further came to prominence in the late ’60s and ’70s with roles in Kill Them All and Come Back Alone (1968), Embassy (1972), Soylent Green (1973), and the teen slasher flick Tourist Trap (1979).
On television, Chuck Connors is best known for his five-year role as Lucas McCain in the highly-rated ABC series The Rifleman (1958–1963). Johnny Crawford who played Mark McCain and Connors reprised their roles in a TV western movie, The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw (1991). More so, he guest-starred in several shows, which further endeared him to American homes. Others major appearances include lead roles in Arrest and Trial (1963-64), Branded (1965-66), Cowboy in Africa (1967-68), and The Yellow Rose (1983-84).
After the immense success of The Rifleman, Chuck Connors took a hard turn and played against type. His body physique portrayed him as an imposing villain which influenced many of his roles. He played diverse roles like bombers, assassins, brutish bodyguards, crooks and anything sinister. On television, he also appeared as the slave owner, Tom Moore in the miniseries Roots which earned him an Emmy nomination.
How Did Chuck Connors Die?
Though Chuck Connors died of natural causes, his death was believed to have been triggered by lung complications he developed in over thirty years of active smoking. Since the 1940s, Connors reportedly smoked three packs of Camel cigarettes daily until he quit in the mid-1970s. Though he continued to smoke at intervals after that. Three weeks before his death, he was hospitalized for pneumonia stemming from lung cancer. He breathed his last on November 10, 1992, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, at age 71. He was interred in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Who was His Wife and Did They Have Children?
For those who know, Chuck Connors was the American ladies’ man. He was incredibly handsome and was widely known to be a social butterfly. With his strong athletic physique, iron jawline, bold blue eyes, and deep commanding voice, many considered him to be the object of most ladies’ fantasies. Perhaps a reason why he had to marry thrice.
Connors was first married to Elizabeth Jane Riddell on October 1, 1948. The two had met in one of his baseball games. Together, they had four sons: Michael (1950–2017), Jeffrey (1952–2014), Stephen (b. 1953), and Kevin (1956–2005). However, their union ended in a divorce thirteen years later in 1961. So far, Connors’ only living son is Stephen.
Two years later, in 1963, Connors married actress, Kamala Devi. The two had met while working on the 1962 film Geronimo. But Geronimo would not be their last project together. The duo also shared the screen in other works such as Branded, Broken Sabre and Cowboy in Africa before their divorce in 1973.
His last and shortest nuptials was to the actress Faith Quabius who played an attendant in Soylent Green. They were married in 1977 and divorced in 1979. Chuck Connors was also in a relationship with Rose Mary Grumley before his death.
Only his first marriage to Elizabeth Jane Riddell produced children. Of all his four sons, only Jeffrey seemed to go the way of his father. Jeffrey appeared as Toby Halperin in the 1959 episode, Tension, of The Rifleman. Jeffrey also authored the book Strength Coach: A Call to Serve (2013). He died a year later from the complications of outpatient surgery on February 19, 2014. Twenty-two years after his father’s death.