Disney legend Fess Parker, 85, has died from natural causes on the day his wife turned 84. The man not only portrayed the legendary title character in Davy Crockett, but Daniel Boone as well. He may have left the world of acting thirty-five years ago but, to his fans, he’ll always be the king of the wild frontier.
After time spent in the Marine Corps, Parker attended the University of Texas on the G.I. Bill, then finished up his studies at the University of Southern California, studying drama. In Hollywood, he landed mostly minor acting roles at first. When Walt Disney was looking for someone to play Davy Crockett, the studio considered big name stars like Buddy Ebsen and Ronald Reagan, before settling on James Arness. Watching Arness’ movie Them! to find out more about him, they became fixated on a minor player in the film, Parker, and tapped him instead to play the role.
Parker helped make Davy Crockett into a huge hit and it became all the rage among young people in the 50s. Everyone was inspired by the man portraying the great frontiersman, wearing fringed costumes and singing the theme song. But mostly they wore coonskin caps, just like the one they saw Davy Crockett wear on TV.
Disney had such a find in Parker that they were reluctant to loan him out to other studios for roles that didn’t perpetuate the same noble image. After appearing in select Disney films such as Old Yeller and Westward Ho, The Wagons!, and the title role in the TV version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Parker moved on to playing another iconic figure, Daniel Boone. This, too, became a hit for Disney and Parker, and he not only starred, but also co-produced, and directed some episodes.
Parker starred in a short-lived sitcom in 1974, The Fess Parker Show, then retired from acting. He moved on to being a real estate developer and winery owner. His family runs the Fess Parker Family Winery and Vineyards in Los Olivos, California. He didn’t totally give up on his frontiersman days. The label on his wine bottles includes a logo with the iconic coonskin cap.