Saturday, January 16, 2016

Dan Haggerty R.I.P.

Dan Haggerty, best known for playing the lead role on the Seventies TV show The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, died on January 15 2015 at the age of 73. The cause was cancer of the spine.

Dan Haggerty was born on November 19 1941 in Pound, Wisconsin.  His parents separated when he was three years old and young Don Haggerty had a somewhat troubled childhood. He escaped from military school multiple times. His parents had wanted him to become a priest, so he was sent to a Franciscan seminary in Culver City, California. Rather than become a priest, Dan Haggerty took a job on a ranch that trained animals for movies and TV shows. Mr. Haggerty first worked as an animal trainer on films and later became a stuntman as well.

As an actor Dan Haggery's film debut was as Biff, one of the muscle men, in Muscle Beach Party in 1964. In the Sixties he appeared in the films Girl Happy (1965), Sail to Glory (1967), Easy Rider (1969), and Angels Die Hard (1970). He helped build motorcycles on Easy Rider and served as an animal trainer on The Wild Country (1970).

The early Seventies saw Dan Haggerty playing yet more bikers in such films as Chrome and Hot Leather (1971), Bury Me an Angel (1972), Pink Angels (1972), Sleazy Rider (1973), Superchick (1973), and Hex (1973). When the North Wind Blows (1974) marked a shift in his career. The film was a period piece dealing with an old fur trapper. While Mr. Haggerty did not play the lead, the movie was indicative of the path his career would take in the Seventies. Indeed, his next role would be the lead in the film The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (1974) . The movie centred on the historical figure James "Grizzly" Adams, a famous mountain man of the American West. The film proved successful and led to the similarly themed The Adventures of Frontier Fremont (1976) starring Dan Haggerty.

The success of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams led to the TV series of the same name, which debuted on NBC on March 2 1977. The series ran until March 22 1978. A Christmas themed TV movie, Once Upon a Starry Night, aired on December 19 1978. The series was followed by the TV movie The Capture of Grizzly Adams in 1982. The late Seventies saw Dan Haggerty appear in the TV movies Desperate Women, Terror Out of the Sky, and Condominium. He also appeared in an episode of CHiPs.

In the Eighties Dan Haggerty guest starred on the TV shows Charlie's Angels and The Love Boat. He appeared in such movies as Americana (1981), King of the Mountain (1981), Ladies Night (1983), Abducted (1986), Terror Night (1987), Elves (1989), One Man War (1990), and Repo Jake (1990).  On Americana he also served as an animal handler and a set decorator.

In the Nineties Dan Haggerty appeared in such films as Spirit of the Eagle (1991), Soldier's Fortune (1991), Love and Dynamite (1992), Abducted II: The Reunion (1995), The Little Patriot (1995), Grizzly Mountain (1997), Born Champion (1998), and Escape to Grizzly Mountain (2000). In the Teens he appeared in such films as An Ordinary Killer (2003), Big Stan (2007), Dead in 5 Heartbeats (2013), and Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (2013).

I have not seen either the movie The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams or the TV show it inspired since childhood. That having been said, I know I watched the TV series faithfully. I have no idea if I would like the TV show now or not, but I rather suspect I would still think Dan Haggerty was perfect for the role of Grizzly Adams. Not only did he look quite a bit like a mountain man (at least one who had been cleaned up), but he seemed to have a natural affinity for animals. Whether it was the bear Ben or the various raccoons, squirrels, and other animals on the show, Dan Haggery interacted as if it was perfectly natural. I rather suspect for many people who were kids in the late Seventies, Dan Haggerty will always be Grizzly Adams.

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