Richard W. Farnsworth (September 1, 1920 – October 6, 2000) was an American actor and stuntman. His film career began in 1937; however, he achieved his greatest success for his performances in The Grey Fox (1982) and The Straight Story (1999), for which he received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Farnsworth was born in Los Angeles, California, to a housewife mother and an engineer father. He was raised during the Great Depression. He lived with his aunt, mother, and two sisters in downtown Los Angeles after his father died when he was seven years old.
He was working as a stable hand at a polo field in Los Angeles for six dollars a week when he was offered a chance to make seven dollars a day plus a box lunch as a stuntman. In 1937, when he was sixteen, he started by riding horses in films such as The Adventures of Marco Polo with Gary Cooper. He performed several horse-riding stunts in such films as the Marx Brothers' A Day at the Races (1937) and Gunga Din (1939).
What differentiated Farnsworth from other western actors was his gradual transition into acting from stunt work. He made uncredited appearances in numerous films, including Gone with the Wind (1939), Red River (1948), The Wild One (1953), and The Ten Commandments (1956). He was on the set of Spartacus (1960) for eleven months. He laughed when he said he did not look like a gladiator but drove a chariot. However, it was not until 1963 that he finally received his first acting credit.
Farnsworth's acting career largely consisted of western films, although he did appear in a number of television shows. He was in 1977 television miniseries Roots, he won a Gemini Award for his performance as Matthew Cuthbert in the 1985 Canadian miniseries Anne of Green Gables and he co-starred with Wilford Brimley in the short-lived but critically acclaimed 1992 summer replacement The Boys of Twilight. In 1979, Farnsworth was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Comes a Horseman. However, his breakthrough came when he played stagecoach robber Bill Miner in the 1982 Canadian film The Grey Fox, for which he won a Genie Award. He appeared as a baseball coach in The Natural in 1984. Another of his prominent roles was as a suspicious sheriff in the film version of Stephen King's Misery (1990), a character that was created exclusively for the movie.
Farnsworth became well known in the Pacific Northwest for portraying the groundskeeper who saw the mythical "Artesians" in the 1980s Olympia Beer ad campaign.
In 1999, Farnsworth was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for The Straight Story. When director David Lynch offered him the role, Farnsworth had no idea who he was. Farnsworth did not like violence or swearing, and Lynch assured him that there would be none of that in the movie. The lead role was a rarity for a man his age.
Farnsworth has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1560 Vine Street. In 1997, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Farnsworth was the spokesman for the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium, an annual event in Ruidoso, New Mexico. He made a video with cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell called Buckaroo Bard. He also helped with the 'Last Great Cattle Drive of This Millennium' in 1999. Shortly before his death, he was presented with an award from the Governor of New Mexico for Excellence and Achievement in the Arts.
Personal life and death
Farnsworth was married to Margaret "Maggie" Hill (who died in 1985) for 38 years. They had two children, Diamond and Missy. He moved to Lincoln, New Mexico, where he owned a 60-acre (240,000 m2) ranch and was involved in the community and was well-liked.
Toward the end of his life, he met Jewely Van Valin, a stewardess 35 years his junior. Farnsworth and Van Valin started riding horses together, and later became engaged.
Farnsworth was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer in the early 1990s. He was eventually diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, which left him partially paralyzed and unable to walk. On October 6, 2000, Farnsworth committed suicide by shooting himself at his ranch.
Richard Farnsworth's remains are inurned at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery.
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"Richard Farnsworth, Stunt Man And 2-Time Oscar Nominee, 80". The New York Times. October 8, 2000.
"Actor Richard Farnsworth dies". BBC News. October 7, 2000.