Bonanza fans didn’t know it, but everyone got their final look at Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright, in early April 1972.
The episode was called One Ace Too Many. It ran on April 2 to close out the 13th season for Bonanza. And Lorne Greene was the standout. He played two parts in the episode. Of course, he was Ben Cartwright, the venerable family patriarch. But he also portrayed Bradley Meredith, the Ben Cartwright look-alike who was out to steal the family money.
The real Cartwrights were away from the Ponderosa. So Meredith pretended to be Ben, telling folks he was seriously ill, all the while trying to sell off Cartwright assets. The real Cartwrights figured it out just in time to foil Meredith’s devious plot. It was the second time the character Bradley Meredith appeared on Bonanza.
A month later after the airing, Dan Blocker, who played middle brother Hoss, died unexpectedly. He was only 43. With weeks before he needed to start filming for the 14th season of Bonanza, Blocker had what was thought to be routine gallbladder surgery. After surgery, Blocker developed blood clots in his lungs and died of a pulmonary embolism.
Dan Blocker played the perfect Hoss Cartwright, the affable middle son and brother to Adam and Little Joe. On Bonanza, Hoss’ real name was Eric Cartwright. His parents nicknamed him Hoss.
Bonanza Never Recovered From Sudden Loss of Dan Blocker
It was so difficult for Bonanza to continue after Blocker died. In fact, Bonanza was one of the first TV shows forced to deal with the death of a major character. The premiere of season 14 mentioned that Hoss had died, but it never was explained what happened.
The episode initially was supposed to be about Hoss getting married. But that was before Blocker passed away. In a reunion movie, we learned that Hoss died a hero as he tried to save a woman who was drowning.
Grief overwhelmed the cast, most of whom had spent 13 years working alongside Blocker. Yes, the Cartwrights weren’t a real family, but the actors were all friends.
Lorne Greene spoke about the impact of Blocker’s death in a 1986 interview. It still had a significant impact on the man who played Blocker’s TV father.
“Dan Blocker is one of the great tragedies that take place in a person’s life,” Greene said. “A big, huge man, I referred to him as ‘my big son Hoss,’ 6-foot-3 anyway you want to measure it.
“He was a marvelous human being, a very bright, very bright man,” Greene said. “Never hurt anybody in his life. And a little blood clot after an operation took him away. You expect a man like that something horrendous to happen.”
The network cancelled Bonanza months after Blocker’s death. The final episode was called The Hunter. It ran Jan. 16, 1973. Still, Bonanza remains as the second-longest running Western drama in TV history. It’s behind only Gunsmoke, which ran 20 seasons.