Pernell Roberts (1928-2010)

Pernell Roberts, the last surviving Cartwright, passed away last week at the age of 81. Perhaps best remembered as Adam Cartwright, the oldest of Ben Cartwright’s sons on NBC’s Bonanza, Roberts left the incredibly popular series after six seasons (1959-1965) because he wasn’t happy with the role. His character was said to be off at college, leaving the door open for his return. Bonanza would ultimately run for thirteen and a half seasons, ending in January of 1973 Instead, he moved to theater and the occasional guest spot on shows like The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., The Big Valley, The Love Boat and Bronk. In 1979 he returned to series television in Trapper John, M.D., which ran until 1986. According to his Internet Movie Database page, his last television appearance was on Diagnosis Murder in 1997.

Whether you know him as Adam Cartwright or Trapper John, there’s no denying the fact that Roberts left an enduring impression on television audiences. Obituaries can be found at Variety, BBC News, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.


  • colonelgirdle says:

    Although I was a child when Adam Cartwright was written out of Bonanza, my memory is that the character was killed not sent to college.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    Unlike “BONANZA”, Pernell Roberts did not make the same mistake when he landed the role of Dr. John McIntire on “TRAPPER JOHN. M.D.” {which, by the way, was a reworking of producers Frank Glicksman & Don Brinkley’s “MEDICAL CENTER”, grafting new characters and a new hopsital setting onto the original (now older) “Trapper John” character from “M*A*S*H”- otherwise, it was the same primary situation: older doctor [Pernell as “James Daly”] mentoring a younger one [Gregory Harrison in Chad Everett’s place], with a larger supporting cast}: this time, Roberts was grateful to be working again on TV every week, and, unlike “BONANZA”, didn’t knock his show or his role (perhaps it was because he owned a piece of the series and was able to “call the shots” for a change). He even managed to successfully endorse “Ecotrin” in the early ’80s because of his “trusted doctor image”, and earned a little more scratch on the side. After “TRAPPER” ended, he went into semi-retirement, and was happy.

  • pBOB says:

    Is Trapper John considered a M*A*S*H spinoff?

    I thought Roberts wanted out of his Trapper John contract over disagreements with a director or producer during the 85 season?

  • RGJ says:

    There was a court case that apparently decided Trapper John, M.D. was a spin-off of the movie MASH, not the television show. I can’t say whether Roberts ever wanted out of the show, though.

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