Barbara Stanwyck helped make The Big Valley one of the most memorable western series of the 60s. A seasoned Hollywood actress leading a TV show is enough to pique your interest, but the series wouldn't have been the same without Lee Majors bringing the character of Heath Barkley to life. As the illegitimate son of Victoria's (Stanwyck) late husband, Heath has to fight his way into the family graces until he becomes one of their own. Majors did a great job playing the rough but well-meaning Heath, taking on tough storylines involving not only his difficult family drama but being a POW during the Civil War. Despite acting seeming so effortless to Majors, he initially had no interest in being an actor.
Majors (born Harvey Lee Yeary) was raised by his aunt and uncle in Kentucky though he was born in Michigan. He studied at Eastern Kentucky University with a focus on Physical Education. Though he was an incredible football player, an injury made him shift his focus, and instead, he decided to become a coach. He moved out to Los Angeles to work as the Recreation Director for the Park and Recreation Department and unsurprisingly, he started meeting a ton of actors and people working in Hollywood. It was actually James Dean's agent Dick Clayton who convinced Majors to go to acting school and pursue a career.
It was decided that Harvey would now go by the stage name "Lee Majors" and after studying acting for a full year, he finally started auditioning. In his mid-twenties, Majors kicked off his career with a small role in the Joan Crawford film Strait-Jacket followed by a guest star appearance in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. After appearing in an episode of Gunsmoke, Majors beat out 400 other actors, including Burt Reynolds, for the role of Heath in The Big Valley. Majors starred on the ABC series opposite Stanwyck, Linda Evans, Richard Long, and Peter Breck from 1965-1969. It completely defined his career in the 60s but the 70s would bring on a new starring role.
After starring in Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law for 3 seasons, Majors was brought a role for a TV movie — The Six Million Dollar Man. Majors starred as former astronaut, Colonel Steve Austin, who had bionic implants. The movie was so successful that ABC ordered a show centered around the bionic man that ran for 5 seasons. It even had its own popular spinoff series, The Bionic Woman. Apparently, cyborgs were all the rage in the 70s...kind of like Farrah Fawcett. Majors was married to the Charlie's Angels star from 1973-1982 following his divorce with first wife, Kathy Robinson, with whom he had a son — Lee Majors Jr.
In the early 80s, Majors booked his next big follow-up role as Hollywood stuntman Colt Seavers who works as a bounty hunter in The Fall Guy. He appeared on the action series for 5 seasons but after that, he was really tired. He had just spent three straight decades starring in back-to-back TV shows and just needed a break.
"After The Fall Guy, I took 10 years off and went to Florida," Lee explained to Closer Weekly. "I just had to take a break and while I was there, I only did some small independent films. When I came back, I started doing a lot of independents and a lot of comedies, actually, like Weeds and Community. It was good and in a way it kind of felt like I was starting over again."
"At the same time, it was during those 10 years off that I realized how big The Six Million Dollar Man was, because I was free to travel around the world to different places, and it was amazing how many people would come up to you — total strangers in totally different cultures — just to say hello. It was very touching and amazing to me."
Despite Majors being best known for some of his leading TV roles, he's stayed busy over the years. He's pretty much appeared in everything — The Virginian, Ben 10: Race Against Time, Ash vs Evil Dead, Dallas, Big Fat Liar, A Smoky Mountain Christmas, Scrooged, Trojan War, Narco Sub, The Norseman, and more. He's still acting to this day, happily married to his fourth wife, Faith Noelle Cross. In addition to Lee Majors Jr., the actor has three children with his third wife, former Playboy playmate Karen Velez — Nikki Loren, Dane Luke, and Trey Kulley.
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