‘Little House,’ ‘Highway to Heaven’ Co-Star Victor French Dies
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Actor and director Victor French, the bearded co-star of ″Highway to Heaven,″ and ″Little House on the Prairie,″ died Thursday from lung cancer. He was 54.
French was admitted to Sherman Oaks Community Hospital on June 7, said Johna Rogovin, a hospital spokeswoman. He was diagnosed with lung cancer three months ago, said his business manager, Bob Philpott.
The actor was known early in his career as a leading television villain, appearing in more than 20 episodes of ″Gunsmoke,″ directing five of them. He was frequently seen in ″Bonanza.″
He subsequently played the scruffy farmer Isaiah Edwards on ″Little House on the Prairie,″ starring Michael Landon. Beneath his character’s tough exterior was a kind, gentle man.
French left the series in 1977 to star in his own situation comedy, ″Carter Country,″ playing a lovable redneck police chief in a city not far from Plains, Ga., home of former President Carter.
Several years after ″Carter Country″ was canceled by ABC in 1979, French rejoined ″Little House″ in 1982, staying with the series until 1983.
He teamed with Landon again on NBC’s ″Highway to Heaven″ in 1984, playing Mark Gordon, a burly and bitter ex-cop who was rescued from despair in the series by Landon’s Jonathan Smith, an earthbound angel determined to save ruined lives.
In a 1985 interview, French credited Landon with being ″the first to see beyond my looks,″ pushing to get him the part in ″Little House″ that allowed him to branch out from villain roles.
″The network wanted a name actor, but Michael stood by his guns. That role changed my career,″ he said. ″Michael is really my ’angel.‴
In addition to co-starring, French directed every third episode of ″Highway to Heaven,″ with Landon directing the other two.
French also played Agent 44 on ″Get Smart″ and appeared in the short- lived situation comedy ″The Hero″ on NBC in 1966.
Born in Santa Barbara and the son of a Hollywood stunt man, French also directed for the theater, winning a Los Angeles Drama Critics Award for his production of ″12 Angry Men.″ He wrote the play ″My Daughter Comes on Thursdays″ and taught acting for 20 years.
French is survived by three children. There will be no memorial service, Philpott said, adding, ″His instructions were to throw a party for his friends.″