How Arthur Hunnicutt, the Oscar-Nominated Actor, Lost His Battle with Cancer

Arthur Hunnicutt was an American actor who was known for his portrayal of old, wise, grizzled rural characters. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Big Sky (1952). He was also known for his role in the Western television series Sugarfoot (1957–1961). But how did this talented actor die and what was his cause of death?

Early Life and Career

Arthur Lee Hunnicutt was born on February 17, 1910, in Gravelly, Arkansas. He attended the University of Central Arkansas and Arkansas State Teachers College, but dropped out when he ran out of money. He joined a theatre company in Massachusetts, then moved to New York City, where he began to find acting roles on Broadway and on tour. He played in numerous productions, including the leading role in Tobacco Road, a part his rangy country persona was made for. He took a few roles in small films in the early 1940s, then returned to stage work. In 1949 he came back to Hollywood permanently and resumed his film career.

Oscar Nomination and TV Roles

He played a long string of supporting roles—sympathetic, wise rural types, as in The Red Badge of Courage (1951), The Lusty Men (1952), The Kettles in the Ozarks (1955), The Last Command (1955, as Davy Crockett), The Tall T (1957), Cat Ballou (1965, as Butch Cassidy), El Dorado (1966) and The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin. In 1952, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the Howard Hawks film The Big Sky, where he played a mountain man named Zeb Calloway. He lost to Anthony Quinn for Viva Zapata!. Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Hunnicutt made nearly 40 guest appearances on American television programs. He made two memorable appearances on Perry Mason in 1963: He played orange grower Amos Kennesaw Mountain Keller in “The Case of the Golden Oranges” and prospector Sandy Bowen in “The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito.” He also made guest appearances on Bonanza, Cheyenne, Gunsmoke, The Outer Limits, The Rifleman, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Andy Griffith Show, The Wild Wild West, Adam-12, and The Twilight Zone.

Cancer Diagnosis and Death

In the early 1970s, Hunnicutt was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. He underwent surgery and radiation therapy, but the disease spread to his throat and lungs. He continued to work until his health deteriorated. His last film was Winterhawk (1975), and his last TV appearance was on Nakia (1974). On September 26, 1979, Hunnicutt died of cancer at the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital at age 69. He was buried in the Coop Prairie Cemetery in Mansfield, Arkansas. His wife Pauline “Pebbles” Lile was his sole survivor.

Legacy and Influence

Arthur Hunnicutt was one of the most distinctive and memorable character actors of his era. He brought a unique charm and authenticity to his roles, often playing old-timers and frontiersmen. He was one of a very few actors who were almost always bearded. He was also an honorary mayor of Northridge, a suburb of Los Angeles. His performances have influenced many actors who followed him, such as Sam Elliott, Jeff Bridges, Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall. He is remembered as a versatile and talented actor who enriched the American cinema and television with his presence.

Doms Desk

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