Television’s “Grizzly Adams” has died. According to manager and friend Terry Bomar, Dan Haggerty, 73, succumbed early Friday to cancer in Burbank, Calif. The actor was diagnosed with cancer of the spine after undergoing surgery for back pain in August 2015. He had been admitted to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center at the time of his death, with his family at his side.
After his diagnosis, Haggerty underwent chemotherapy and was hopeful that the treatment was working. A spot was later discovered on his lung, indicating the cancer had spread.
Haggerty was born in Wisconsin on Nov. 19, 1942. Despite the wishes of his parents, who ran a wild animal attraction which included a black bear, and who wanted their son to become a priest, the actor became a “wild child,” according to Bomar. While a young man, the actor hired on at a San Fernando Valley ranch, where he learned to wrangle animals and became an animal handler for movies. He also worked as a stuntman.
Haggerty’s big break in a starring role came when a producer needed an actor to play Grizzly Adams in the movie The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams after his first choice fell through. The producer saw Haggerty’s work in another film and asked his secretary if the actor was available for the role. The secretary happened to be Haggerty’s wife.
With his long hair, bushy beard, and burly build, the actor made his successful debut as strong-yet-tender woodsman Grizzly Adams in the 1974 movie, which became a surprise hit. The movie inspired a successful television show of the same name, which aired the first of its 37 episodes in 1977, and featured Grizzly Adams’ trusty sidekick, an orphaned bear cub named Ben, who grows to become his closest friend and constant companion. Grizzly Adams and Ben journey throughout the West, gently caring for wild animals and helping people they encounter along the way.
In the years after The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams ended and the news that he had succumbed to cancer, Haggerty remained the same “wild child” of his youth. He was convicted in 1985 of selling cocaine to Los Angeles police officers, who were working undercover to curtail drugs in the entertainment industry. The actor’s amiable nature served him well, as he became so friendly with the officers involved in his case that a second count was thrown out due to hints of entrapment.
Not long after his conviction, Haggerty was seriously injured after becoming involved in a motorcycle accident. While in recovery, he was found guilty in federal court for failing to pay his taxes. Despite his struggles, the actor remained upbeat and humble. In 1987, he spoke to a Los Angeles Times reporter about his experience performing the community service to which he was sentenced. “I’m trying to give back to the system. The system’s been good to me.”
Haggerty continued to act and appeared in many television shows. He also made several Grizzly Adams movies for TV, and so loved playing the character that he was undisturbed to have been typecast as the woodsman, even after the end of the series. He again suffered serious injuries in 1991 from another motorcycle accident, sparking rumors that he had passed away. The experience so affected him that he felt compelled to write to Pope John Paul II. He was excited when he received a reply.
Haggerty’s second wife, Samantha, died in a motorcycle accident in 2008. The actor who played Grizzly Adams has succumbed to cancer, leaving behind two daughters, Tracy and Megan, and three sons, Cody, Dylan, and Don, as well as two grandchildren and five siblings.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Los Angeles Times: Actor Dan Haggerty, TV’s ‘Grizzly Adams,’ dies at 73
CNN: Dan Haggerty, ‘Grizzly Adams’ star, dies at 74
NBC News: Dan Haggerty, ‘The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams’ Star, Dead at 74