Beloved western series Bonanza was one of the longest-running westerns of all time, airing for 14 seasons on NBC, though it still remains popular today running in syndication. Viewers loved following the everyday lives of the Cartwright family on the Ponderosa Ranch -- Patriarch Ben (Lorne Greene) and his sons Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker), and Little Joe (Michael Landon) each had their own personalities, rounding out the TV family perfectly. Dan Blocker is best known for playing the friendly middle child on the popular series that turned him into a TV star.
Bobby Dan Davis Blocker grew up in De Kalb, Texas, fondly remembered from his school days at the Texas Military Institute for his massive size. Despite standing tall at 6' 4" at 300 lbs, Blocker always had a pleasant disposition that would eventually serve him as he pursued a career in Hollywood. But the future TV star had various careers before finally making it in front of the cameras. He played football at Hardin-Simmons University as well as Sul Ross State Teacher's College and ended up getting a master's degree in dramatic arts. He worked as a rodeo performer, a bouncer in a bar, a high school teacher in Sonora, TX, and even a sixth-grade teacher in New Mexico before he moved to Los Angeles with his wife Dolphia Parker.
Before pursuing his acting career, Blocker was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in the Korean War. He earned a slew of medals during his time as an infantry sergeant including the purple heart. Once he kicked off his acting career, the parts just kept on coming. His first gig was in the Three Stooges short, Outer Space Jitters. But then he started regularly appearing in various western TV series like Gunsmoke and The Restless Gun as well as additional roles on Sheriff of Cochise and Zorro. Eventually, he managed to land recurring roles on other westerns including The Rifleman and Wagon Train before his big break came playing Hoss Cartwright in 1959.
Blocker couldn't have been more perfect as the middle Cartwright son Eric, affectionately nicknamed Hoss for his gentle demeanor and large size. In an interview with Cactus Pryor, Blocker admitted that in his early days on the television series, he had some difficulty separating himself from his onscreen persona.
"There was a time, of course, that I did," he explained. "I think after the second or third year, I started finally to divorce myself from him. But in the early days of the series, when I was trying to find this character, when I was really working at it, then, of course, I got wrapped up in him, to the extent that I was Hoss Cartwright practically all the time."
The actor explained that it took until the fifth season of the show for him to fully be able to separate himself from his character.
"Once I knew the fella, he was indelibly stamped, then I could leave him alone and go get him when I wanted him," Blocker said. "And that's every morning at 7 until 8 or 9 o'clock at night, and then I can leave him at the studio and pick him up the next morning."
In 1972, Blocker sadly passed away from a post-operative pulmonary embolism following gall bladder surgery. His death marked a huge moment in television history because it was the first time that writers decided to kill off a major character instead of writing them off. It was decided that no one was capable of filling Blocker's shoes in the role and they were most likely right. Many major fans theorized that his "exit" led to the show's ending after the following 14th season but it's hard to say. All we know is the Cartwright family wasn't the same without their gentle giant. His off-screen death wasn't even explained until the 1988 TV movie Bonanza: The Next Generation where the writers clarified that Hoss drowned trying to rescue a woman.
Outside of his career, Blocker was married to his wife Dolphia from 1952 until his death. They welcomed four children together who also had names beginning with 'D' -- David, twin daughters Debra Lee and Danna Lynn, and Dirk Blocker. Dirk and David Blocker both pursued entertainment careers as an actor and producer respectively.