John Wayne: Bruce Dern Faced Angry Fans For Killing the Duke’s Character in ‘The Cowboys’

by Emily Morgan

Veteran actor Bruce Dern is convinced that when he played the man who shot John Wayne, it would also put a bullet in his career. After his character, Long Hair, shot Wayne’s character in the 1972 western, The Cowboys, Dern would struggle to find work for the rest of his career. 

Before booking the gig that would close the door on his career, Bruce Dern acted in the Sci-Fi film Silent Running when he got a call from his agent. 

“My first starring role,” Dern told True West. “My agent called me: ‘You’ve got to have two days off next week because I have a role you must do. No one can know this. They’re doing a movie where John Wayne’s going to be killed, and you’re going to be the guy that does it!'”

When Dern arrived on set to shoot the movie, Wayne told him something he would never forget. According to Express, Dern said, “It was 8.30 in the morning when we did the scene. Wayne was incredibly s**tfaced on Wild Turkey, a bottle and a half. I could smell it on him. He leans into me and says, ‘Oh, how they’re gonna hate you for this.'”

Bruce Dern’s Fate After Killing John Wayne’s Character

Wayne would prove to be true in his prediction. After the movie came out, strangers would approach Dern on the street and say, “You killed my buddy!”

As Dern revealed, fans later began coming up to him again, this time commending him for his role in Nebraska. In the film, he plays an old man who thinks he’s won a million dollars and must travel from his home in Montana to Nebraska to collect his winnings.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Dern said, “You walk down the street and people come up and shake your hand. I never had this happen except for when I killed John Wayne and then they just go… ‘You f**king b**tard!'”

Despite the temporary setback, Dern picked up the “Best Actor” award at France’s Cannes Film Festival for his role in Nebraska. He later became a two-time Oscar nominee.

The Cowboys premiered just as the sun was setting on the western genre. According to Dern, the cowboy and Indians format faded because younger generations found their own, updated version of a “western.”

“A lot of people will tell you that the reason they don’t make them anymore is because Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Those are the Westerns to the kids now. But you and I know there’s always a place for a Western. The stories are great, the times are great and, for the most part, it really happened.”