Lifestyle & Human Interest

'Bonanza' and 'Johnny Guitar' Star Ben Cooper Dead at Age 86


Ben Cooper, an actor known for his appearances in “Johnny Guitar,” “Bonanza” and “Rawhide,” has died at age 86, his family announced Monday evening.

According to the actor’s nephew, Pete Searls, Cooper, who appeared in a slew of Westerns on television and film over the years, died in his sleep.

Searls told The Hollywood Reporter that his uncle died in Memphis, Tennessee, after a “long illness.”

Cooper’s family reported the death on his Facebook page, writing, “It is with a sad heart that I pass along the news that my uncle and western actor Ben Cooper fought his last gunfight this morning.”

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Cooper played in Westerns from the 1950s through the 1970s, including “Gunfight at Comanche Creek,” “Support Your Local Gunfighter,” “The Rifleman” and “Gunsmoke.”

In the 1980s, he guest-starred on multiple television shows, including “Dallas” and “Knots Landing.”

In 2005, Cooper was awarded a Golden Boot Award for his contributions to the Western genre, The Wrap reported.

His family moved Cooper to Tennessee in 2017 to better care for him in light of his dementia diagnosis.

In an interview filmed for the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine, California, Cooper spoke of his absolute love of acting in Westerns.

Cooper told host Cheryl Rogers Barnett that he started acting on Broadway as a child, which was a bit of a fluke, and then moved on to radio, television and film.

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“They let me play cowboy, and they paid me [for it],” Cooper told Barnett. “I’d ridden horses. I got my own horse when I was 12, and I used to jump him bareback.”

“I didn’t know they had stuntmen so I’d watch a movie and then practice on my horse until I could do it. Darn near killed myself a few times, but I did have fun,” the actor said with a laugh.

Cooper revealed that he practiced his fast draw for 90 minutes a day for four years, a skill that served him well over his career.

The Western community will miss the actor with the boyish face who knew how to act out a cowboy death scene like a pro.

“Ben has always had a baby face and, even though he was killed in loads of his performances, he sometimes got to play the killer just because it would be such a surprise to the audience,” Barnett said.

In addition to Searls, Cooper leaves behind his daughter, Pamela, and her family and his sister, Bunny.

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A graduate of Grand Canyon University, Kim Davis has been writing for The Western Journal since 2015, focusing on lifestyle stories.
Kim Davis began writing for The Western Journal in 2015. Her primary topics cover family, faith, and women. She has experience as a copy editor for the online publication Thoughtful Women. Kim worked as an arts administrator for The Phoenix Symphony, writing music education curriculum and leading community engagement programs throughout the region. She holds a degree in music education from Grand Canyon University with a minor in eating tacos.
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