By Mike Barnes
Dan Haggerty, the husky, bushy-bearded actor who starred as the nature-loving outdoorsman Grizzly Adams on the big screen and on television, died Friday. He was 74.
Haggerty, who spent time in jail and later was severely injured in a motorcycle accident, died at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, his manager, Terry Bomar, told The Hollywood Reporter.
His daughter, Megan, had turned to a crowdfunding site in a bid to raise money for his fight against “this bear known as cancer.” She had raised about $10,500 toward a goal of $100,000.
Haggerty starred as James Capen “Grizzly” Adams, who, after he is wrongly accused of murder, heads into the mountains, bonds with the critters and adopts an orphan cub in The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (1974).
The character was based on a real-life trapper who lived in California in the 1850s.
The independent movie, made for less than $200,000, grossed an astonishing $45 million domestic and spawned an NBC series that debuted in 1977 and lasted two seasons. He later played Adams in another feature released in 1981 and in a 1982 telefilm.
Haggerty got his signature role when a producer spotted him in dailies of a film he was working on in Canada.
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“Now that guy would be great for Grizzly Adams, not the guy we have,” Haggerty once recalled. “He says to my wife, who was a secretary at the time, ‘Do you know that guy?’ She says, ‘Yeah, his name is Dan Haggerty.’ And he goes, ‘Isn’t your name Haggerty?’ She says, ‘Yes, he’s my husband.’ Well, call him up and tell him to come down here, I want to talk to him.”
The popular actor showed off his considerable muscle (and was a must-have participant in the tug-of-war competition) as a member of the NBC team in the Battle of the Network Stars competitions that aired on ABC.
But in 1985, Haggerty was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years’ probation for selling cocaine to two undercover police officers. He claimed he was set up.
After he needed 18 operations to recover from a motorcycle accident that left him close to death, Haggerty returned to play another mountain man in Grizzly Mountain (1997), which featured his children Dylan and Megan, and in a 2000 sequel.
In 2007, he showed up in Big Stan, directed by and starring Rob Schneider.
Born Gene Jajonski in Pound, Wis., Haggerty was a character named Biff in the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello film Muscle Beach Party (1964) and later appeared in Girl Happy (1965) opposite Elvis Presley and in Easy Rider (1969).
In addition to Megan, Haggerty’s survivors include his other children Dylan, Cody, Tracey and Don.