Television legend Earl Hamner Jr. has died. The beloved writer and producer of the iconic CBS dramas The Waltons and Falcon Crest died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, according to Entertainment Weekly. Hamner was 92 years old, and he had been battling cancer since 2014.
Earl Hamner’s family announced the sad news on Facebook, revealing that the TV legend died peacefully in his sleep, with family and his favorite music surrounding him.
“Dad died peacefully in his sleep at Cedar Sinai Hospital. He was surrounded by family, and we were playing his favorite music, John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Collection. Dad took his last breath half way through Rocky Mountain High…He never got enough of this great gift of life with which we have all been so deeply blessed — and he hung on as tightly as anyone could with insatiable passion and wonder. My heart is broken as I say, “Goodnight, Dad!’”
Earl Hamner was best known for creating The Waltons, which ran from 1972 to 1981 in CBS. The family drama, based on his 1961 novel Spencer’s Mountain, was inspired by Earl’s own experiences growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1930s. The pilot for the show was the 1971 Christmas movie, The Homecoming, with Patricia Neal winning a Golden Globe for her role as The Waltons’ matriarch, Olivia. But the long-running series starred Ralph Waite and Michael Learned as the Walton parents, and Richard Thomas as their oldest son, John-Boy. The classic show won 13 Emmy Awards during its run, and every episode closed with Hamner narrating the voice of an adult John-Boy.
In a 2000 interview with Filmfax, Earl explained how he became the narrator for the series.
“I became the narrator in an odd way. When we were producing The Homecoming, we auditioned just about every professional narrator in town. Finally, Fielder Cook, the director, said, ‘We need somebody who sounds as homespun as Earl.’ He thrust a microphone in front of my face and told me to read the copy. It was a particularly moving segment about my feelings for my family, and I felt very deeply about what I was reading. When I looked over at Fielder, I could see that he was moved and that I had the job!”
But while The Waltons may have been his signature series, Hamner had an extremely diverse background in the entertainment industry. Earl was the man behind Falcon Crest, a show that couldn’t have been more different from The Waltons. The long-running primetime soap about a wealthy, corrupt California wine family ran from 1981 to 1990. Hamner once described Falcon Crest’s Gioberti family as “the Waltons of today,” but he stepped away from the show after its fifth season in the late 1980s.
Before he created his two most high-profile series, Earl Hamner, a college pal of Rod Serling’s, wrote eight episodes of The Twilight Zone, landing his very first television credit with the episode “The Hunt.” He later penned episodes for everything from Gentle Ben to The Wild Thornberrys.
And in what could be considered one of the biggest honors in his career, Hamner was personally selected by author E.B. White to write the script for the 1973 animated film adaptation of Charlotte’s Web.
Earl Hamner Jr. (1923-2016) also adapted E.B. White's novel for the film of CHARLOTTE'S WEB (1973) pic.twitter.com/RgZ2MbNuUM— Will McKinley (@willmckinley) March 25, 2016
Earl Hamner Jr. left behind a long list of TV credits and a huge body of work in multiple genres, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood was quick to react to the death of this entertainment legend.
Oh! Lovey guy! I worked with him on Falcon Crest!! Two in one day! https://t.co/LBwIHPhpOA— Morgan Fairchild (@morgfair) March 25, 2016
Take a look at the video to see Earl Hamner Jr. taking about The Waltons.
[Photo: Earl Hamner Facebook]