Hoss Cartwright from Bonanza fame was a beefy man. That’s why they called him Hoss, instead of his given name Eric.
And Dan Blocker, who played Hoss, the show’s heart and soul, was a beefy guy all his life, too. And in Hollywood, where so many stars really aren’t larger than life, this tall Texan stood out. That had its positives and negatives.
Blocker, who died in 1972, once talked about his big build in an interview about Bonanza, the show that made him a household name.
“Being big has its advantages,” Blocker said, “especially when you’re doing the rounds of the agents’ offices. They don’t forget you in a hurry. But it has its disadvantages, too. You’ve got to have a bed special made . . . mine is 7 feet long. You’ve got to be careful when you sit down. I used to wreck a couple of chairs a week in the studio.
“Weight is a problem with me,” Blocker said. “If I don’t watch it, it shoots up to around 300 pounds. It bugs me having to go on a diet but there isn’t any alternative. I remember breakfast when I ate a dozen eggs, two loaves of bread and drank two quarts of milk. Now I eat like a normal guy and I’m always hungry. If I had been a little guy I’d probably still be teaching school in Carlsbad, New Mexico.”
No Diets Here: Dan Blocker, Even Before Bonanza, Was a Big Man
Blocker weighed a whopping 14 pounds when he was born in De Kalb, a town in northeast Texas. And for the rest of his life, he always was a big guy. When he was cast on Bonanza, Blocker stood 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds.
Growing up, Blocker played football for both Hardin Simmons and Sul Ross State, both colleges in Texas. He then served in the Army, where he was a well-decorated soldier in the Korean War. And after the war, he worked as a bouncer and a rodeo performer. He also was a teacher in Sonora, a town in west Texas. At one point, he wanted to return to school to earn a doctorate in education. But Bonanza fame got in the way.
Bonanza producers wanted everyone on the set to appear tall. David Canary, who played Candy Canaday, said main cast members were required to wear lifts in their boots. And Canaday, who was a football player in college, already was 6-feet.
Sadly, Blocker left the world too soon. In May of 1972, he was scheduled for routine gall bladder surgery. Filming for the final season of Bonanza was set to start within weeks of the surgery. But a blood clot formed in Blocker’s lungs post-surgery, and he died of a pulmonary embolism. He was only 43.
Bonanza needed to address the death of this popular character. Without mentioning what happened, the season premiere of Bonanza talked about Hoss in the past tense, with his TV family obviously still stunned and upset at the loss. In a reunion movie, it was explained that Hoss died a hero as he tried to save a woman from drowning.
TV fans always will remember Hoss, the show’s gentle, soulful giant.