‘Bonanza’: How the Show Made TV History After Dan Blocker’s Death

by Matthew Wilson

Many consider “Bonanza” star Dan Blocker to be the heart of the western series. But the actor suddenly passed away before the 14th Season.

The TV show became the first show ever to kill off a young male character when producers decided to kill off Blocker’s character Hoss. Before then, TV productions usually wrote off major male characters in a different manner by having them leave town or some other excuse.

But Blocker’s real-life death made production pause. They wanted the characters on the show to mourn in a similar fashion as both the crew and fans. As a result, they decided to kill Hoss to give a memorial to Blocker and his time on the show, as an on-screen funeral of sorts. Rather than recast the character, they opted to move forward with “Bonanza” without Blocker. Many fans refer to Season 14 as the “Season Without Hoss.”

Blocker died between seasons after developing a pulmonary embolism after gall bladder surgery. His death shocked the cast and crew immensely. Star Lorne Greene didn’t believe the show could continue without Blocker and Hoss. Ultimately, he proved correct when the show ended after Season 14.

“After Dan’s death, I didn’t see how the show could continue,” Greene said. “I said to my wife, ‘That’s it. It’s finished.’”

‘Bonanza’ Mourned Dan Blocker

Initially, the show planned to focus on Hoss’ wife’s murder. But when Blocker died, the premiere changed its focus. Ultimately, production opted to simply mention that Hoss died between seasons rather than a large on-screen funeral. Later in the TV movie “Bonanza: The Next Generation,” audiences learned that Hoss died saving a woman from drowning. The character lived and died a hero of the wild west.

“We try to mention Hoss’ death very simply, in passing … it might not please everybody,” Landon said of the episode. “I’m sure that some people would rather have a whole hour memorial to Dan, but we just couldn’t do that. We tried to do what we thought he would have wanted us to do.”

In lieu of Blocker and Hoss, production wrote in a parolee, played by Griff King, come to the Ponderosa Ranch. The parolee was looking for redemption. Likewise, they brought back in fan-favorite Cowboy Canaday as well. Ultimately, the show wasn’t the same without Blocker and Hoss. The adventures of the Cartwright family came to an abrupt end after Season 14 when the network decided to cancel the show.