How Jock Mahoney, the Oldest Tarzan, Died of a Stroke

Jock Mahoney was an American actor and stuntman who starred in two Western television series, The Range Rider and Yancy Derringer, and played Tarzan in two feature films. He was also a Marine fighter pilot and instructor during World War II, and a noted horse breeder. He died of a stroke in 1989 at the age of 70, after being hospitalized for an auto accident. In this article, we will explore his life, career, and death in more detail.

Early Life and Military Service

Jock Mahoney was born as Jacques Joseph O’Mahoney on February 7, 1919, in Chicago, Illinois. He was of French and Irish descent, with some Cherokee ancestry. He was the only child of Ruth and Charles O’Mahoney. He grew up in Davenport, Iowa, where he excelled at swimming, basketball, and football. He entered the University of Iowa in Iowa City, but dropped out to enlist in the United States Marine Corps when World War II began. He served as a pilot, flight instructor, and war correspondent. Wikipedia

Stuntman and Actor

After his discharge from the Marine Corps, Mahoney moved to Los Angeles, and for a time was a horse breeder. However, he soon became a movie stuntman, doubling for Gregory Peck, Errol Flynn, and John Wayne. Director Vincent Sherman recalled staging the climactic fight scene in his 1948 film Adventures of Don Juan and could find only one stuntman who was willing to leap from a high staircase in the scene. That man was Mahoney, who demanded and received $1,000 for the dangerous stunt. Wikipedia

Most of Mahoney’s films of the late 1940s and early 1950s were produced by Columbia Pictures. Like many Columbia contract players, Mahoney worked in the studio’s two-reel comedies. Beginning in 1947, writer-director Edward Bernds cast Mahoney in slapstick comedies starring the Three Stooges. Mahoney had large speaking roles in these films, and often played his scenes for laughs. Often cast alongside heroine Christine McIntyre, he appeared in the Stooge films Out West (1947), Squareheads of the Round Table (1948) (and its 1954 remake, Knutzy Knights), Fuelin’ Around (1949), and Punchy Cowpunchers (1950). In the Stooge films, Mahoney—striking a heroic pose—would suddenly get clumsy, tripping over something or taking sprawling pratfalls. Wikipedia

Beginning in 1950, Columbia management noticed Mahoney’s acting skills and gave him starring roles in two adventure serials, Cody of the Pony Express (1950) and Roar of the Iron Horse (1951). Mahoney succeeded stuntman Ted Mapes as the double for Charles Starrett in Columbia’s The Durango Kid Western series. Wikipedia

The Range Rider and Yancy Derringer

In 1951, Mahoney got his first leading role in a television series, The Range Rider. He played the title character, a masked cowboy who roamed the West with his young sidekick Dick West, played by Dick Jones. The show was produced by Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions and ran for 78 episodes until 1953. Mahoney performed most of his own stunts on the show, which featured many action scenes involving horses, guns, and fistfights. The show was popular with children and adults alike and made Mahoney a household name. Wikipedia

In 1958, Mahoney returned to television as the star of another Western series, Yancy Derringer. He played the title character, a suave gambler and adventurer who secretly worked as an agent for the governor of Louisiana in New Orleans after the Civil War. The show was produced by Desilu Productions and ran for 34 episodes until 1959. Mahoney’s co-stars included X Brands as his Native American companion Pahoo-Ka-Ta-Wah (who communicated only by hand gestures), Frances Bergen as Madame Francine (the owner of a riverboat casino), Kevin Hagen as John Colton (the city administrator), and Richard Devon as Jody Barker (a crooked saloon owner). The show featured many exotic locations and historical figures such as Jean Lafitte, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Jesse James, and Wild Bill Hickok. Wikipedia

Tarzan Films

Mahoney had always been interested in playing Tarzan since he was a fan of Johnny Weissmuller’s films as a child. He tested to replace Weissmuller as Tarzan in 1948, but lost out to Lex Barker. However, he got another chance in 1960, when he played the villainous Coy Banton in Gordon Scott’s Tarzan the Magnificent (1960). His performance impressed producer Sy Weintraub, who hired him as Scott’s replacement for the next Tarzan film. Wikipedia

Mahoney became the 13th actor to play Tarzan on screen, and the oldest one at 42. He starred in two films, Tarzan Goes to India (1962) and Tarzan’s Three Challenges (1963). He did all his own stunts, including wrestling with tigers, elephants, and crocodiles. He also brought a more sophisticated and humorous touch to the character, who spoke fluent English and interacted with various cultures. However, he also faced many difficulties during the production of the films, such as harsh weather conditions, injuries, illnesses, and conflicts with the directors. He contracted dysentery, dengue fever, and pneumonia while filming Tarzan’s Three Challenges in Thailand. By this time, Weintraub was looking for a younger Tarzan, envisioning a future TV series. By mutual agreement, his contract with Mahoney was dissolved. Wikipedia

Later Career and Death

After recovering from his health problems, Mahoney resumed his acting career in the late 1960s and 1970s. He appeared in several action films, such as The Destructors (1968), The Phynx (1970), The Last Day (1975), and The End (1978). He also worked as a stunt coordinator on films such as The Great Bank Robbery (1969), The Getaway (1972), and Tarzan the Ape Man (1981). He guest starred in episodes of TV shows such as Kung Fu (1973), B.J. and the Bear (1979), and The Fall Guy (1982). Wikipedia

Mahoney’s career was interrupted in 1973 when he suffered a stroke while filming an episode of Kung Fu. He later recovered and continued working until his death. His final film was ironically titled The End (1978), where he co-starred with his stepdaughter Sally Field and her then-boyfriend Burt Reynolds, who was also the director. Mahoney played Field’s father, who was dying of cancer. IMDb

Mahoney died on December 14, 1989, in Bremerton, Washington, of an apparent stroke. He had been hospitalized after an auto accident two days earlier. He was 70 years old. He was survived by his wife Autumn Russell; two daughters, Kathleen and Princess O’Mahoney; a son, Jim; and five stepchildren, Sally Field, Ricky Field, Carl Field, Angela Field, and Andrea Field. IMDb


Jock Mahoney was one of the most versatile and talented actors and stuntmen of his generation. He excelled at comedy, drama, action, and adventure genres. He was admired by his peers and fans for his physical prowess, charisma, and professionalism. He left behind a rich body of work that spanned four decades and entertained millions of people around the world. He was also a devoted husband, father, and grandfather who loved his family dearly. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest Tarzans of all time. PeoplePill

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