Pernell Roberts, who became a small-screen staple as Adam Cartwright in Bonanza and later as the title character in the M*A*S*H spinoff Trapper John, M.D., has died. He was 81.

His wife, Eleanor Criswell, told the Los Angeles Times that Roberts passed away Sunday at the couple's home in Malibu after losing a battle with cancer.

Funeral services were set for today.

Born May 18, 1928, in Georgia, Roberts served in the Marines before getting the acting bug. He won a Drama Desk Award in 1955 for an off-Broadway version of Macbeth and then had a few TV appearances before landing his career-making role of the eldest Cartwright boy on NBC's Bonanza, one of TV's all-time most popular Westerns.

The show even allowed Roberts to show off his vocal chops, with him recording a series of folk tunes that were later included on the Bonanza box set.

Roberts exited the Ponderosa after six seasons following a dispute with producers. He bounced around as a guest star on some of the biggest shows of the 1970s (Mission: Impossible, The Odd Couple, The Hardy Boys) before scoring a second-act success as the affable lead in CBS' Trapper John, M.D.

He took over the role played on the M*A*S*H TV series by Wayne Rogers—that of Korean War vet Dr. "Trapper" John McIntyre nearly three decades after his discharge from the Army.

Trapper John, M.D. ran from 1979 to 1986 and earned Roberts an best actor Emmy nomination. After the series was canceled, he turned up sporadically on the tube, including opposite Milla Jovovich in the 1988 telefilm The Night Train to Kathmandu. His last appearance was in a 2001 episode of Diagnosis: Murder.


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