Fast-drawing, fresh-faced Western film and television star Ben Cooper died on Monday, February 24 at the age of 86. Cooper’s nephew Pete Searls told the Hollywood Reporter that the star died in Memphis, Tennessee after “a long illness.”
The Hartford, Connecticut native’s career began at age 9 with a Broadway production of Life With Father. In the 1950’s, Cooper made a name for himself in Hollywood: Most notably as the bandit Turkey Ralston from the 1954 Joan Crawford film Johnny Guitar. His other co-stars range from Audie Murphy (Gunfight at Comanche Creek, Arizona Raiders) and Ernest Borgnine (The Last Command) to Burt Lancaster (The Rose Tattoo) and Roy Orbison (The Fastest Guitar Alive). His career in Westerns included numerous gigs for Republic Pictures (Thunderbirds, The Last Command, Duel at Apache Wells) and continued through two 1971 films: Support Your Local Gunfighter and One More Train to Rob.
“They let me play cowboy, and they paid me [for it],” Cooper said in an interview filmed for the Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine, California. “I’d ridden horses, I got my own horse when I was 12. I used to jump him bareback. I didn’t know they had stuntmen; I’d watch a movie and then practice on my horse until I could do [the stunt.]”
Cooper also excelled in such Civil War period pieces as Woman They Almost Lynched, Outlaw’s Son and Rebel in Town.
On television, Cooper appeared in many of the best-known Western series: Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Tales of Wells Fargo, Wagon Train, The Rifleman, Rawhide and Death Valley Days.
Additional television appearances include such series as Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, Dallas and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.
Cooper won a Golden Boot Award in 2005 for his contributions to the Western genre.
He’s survived by his daughter Pamela and her family and his sister Bunny.