John Smith was a popular American actor who starred in several western movies and television shows in the 1950s and 1960s. He is best known for his roles as Deputy Lane Temple in Cimarron City and Slim Sherman in Laramie. He also appeared in films such as The High and the Mighty, Wichita, and Friendly Persuasion. But how did the actor die and what was the cause of his death? Here is what we know.
Early Life and Career
John Smith was born Robert Errol Van Orden on March 6, 1931, in Los Angeles, California. He was a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor of New Netherland in the 17th century. He had a tragic childhood, as he accidentally shot and killed his older sister, Laura, when he was six years old. He later joined the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir and appeared in several films as an uncredited choir member, including Bing Crosby’s Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s.
He graduated from Susan Miller Dorsey High School in Los Angeles and enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles. He sang with a dance band and played football, basketball, and gymnastics during his school years. In 1950, he started working as a messenger for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and in 1952, the studio cast him as James Stewart’s brother in Carbine Williams, although the part was uncredited. He was renamed by his agent Henry Willson in contrast to the more exciting names of Willson’s other clients as he was “the only John Smith in the business”.
He soon landed more roles in films and television shows, mostly in the western genre. He played James Earp, older brother of Wyatt Earp, in the film Wichita, starring Joel McCrea and Vera Miles. He also played Milo Buck, opposite Karen Sharpe, in the John Wayne-produced airplane disaster film The High and the Mighty. He appeared as Thursday October Christian in The Women of Pitcairn Island and as Wesley Mason in Rebel in Town, starring John Payne.
He also guest-starred in several television shows, such as Stories of the Century, Frontier, Crossroads, The Millionaire, and Father Knows Best. He became a leading man when he was cast as Deputy Lane Temple in the NBC western series Cimarron City, co-starring George Montgomery and Audrey Totter. The show ran for one season from 1958 to 1959.
Laramie and Later Roles
In 1959, Smith landed his most famous role as Slim Sherman, a rancher who runs a stagecoach stop with his younger brother Andy (Robert Crawford Jr.), on the NBC western series Laramie. The show also starred Robert Fuller as Jess Harper, a drifter who becomes Slim’s partner and friend. Laramie was a hit show that ran for four seasons from 1959 to 1963.
Smith became a household name and a sex symbol because of his role as Slim Sherman. He received thousands of fan letters every week and was featured on many magazine covers. He also recorded an album of songs titled John Smith Sings: Songs from Cimarron City & Laramie.
After Laramie ended, Smith continued to act in films and television shows, but with less frequency and success. He appeared in films such as The Monkey’s Uncle, The Road West, The Rare Breed, and Justin Morgan Had a Horse. He also guest-starred in shows such as Perry Mason, Wagon Train, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Ironside, Marcus Welby M.D., Police Story, and Fantasy Island.
Personal Life and Death
Smith was married once to actress Luana Patten, whom he met on the set of Friendly Persuasion. They married in 1960 but divorced in 1964. They had no children together. Smith had a daughter named Julie from another relationship.
Smith retired from acting in 1975 and lived a private life away from the spotlight. He suffered from health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver and heart issues. He died at his home in Los Angeles on January 25, 1995, at the age of 63. The cause of his death was given as cirrhosis of the liver and heart problems. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.
John Smith was one of the most popular western stars of his time. He left behind a legacy of memorable performances and a loyal fan base that still remembers him fondly.