Pernell Roberts, the outspoken actor who played Adam Cartwright, the thoughtful eldest son on television’s seminal western series “Bonanza” and who was the last surviving member of the show’s original family, died Sunday at his home in Malibu, Calif. He was 81.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his lawyer and friend Richard A. Stone.
Dark-haired, handsome and athletically built, Mr. Roberts was a rising theater actor — a busy Shakespearean, in fact — who had performed in a number of classic plays Off Broadway and on before he landed, in 1959, on the Ponderosa, the ranch that provided the setting for “Bonanza.”
Adam, the first-born son of Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene), a three-time widower who had had a son with each of his wives, was the book-smart one; Hoss (Dan Blocker) was the comic bruiser; Little Joe (Michael Landon) was the adorable but impetuous youngster with a lot to learn. When Mr. Landon died in 1991, Mr. Roberts was the only Cartwright left. According to a statement provided by Mr. Stone, he referred to himself jokingly as “Pernell the-Last-One Roberts.”