Western TV Legend Johnny Crawford Dies at Age 75
By Movieguide® Staff
Johnny Crawford, known for his roles as an original Mouseketeer on THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB and the successful Western series THE RIFLEMAN, died on April 29, 2021. He was 75.
“It is with great sadness that we share the news of Johnny Crawford’s passing. He slipped away peacefully on Thursday, April 29, 2021, with Charlotte, his wife, by his side,” a statement on Crawford’s website reads. “We are grateful for the outpouring of love and support from friends and fans around the world. Johnny touched so many people, through his music and his performances, and we are truly blessed that they remain as his legacy.”
MOVIEGUIDE’s founder Dr. Ted Baehr, notes, “Having grown up in a 1930s Hollywood Cowboy star family, my father Bob “Tex” Allen” (aka Ted Baehr), when many of the Hollywood Cowboys were Christian, it was a joy meeting Johnny later in his life at a party honoring him and finding that Johnny and many of the 1960 TV Cowboys were wonderful and beloved people of strong faith and exemplary moral values. Johnny was truly loved and appreciated.”
The announcement also asked for prayers for the Crawford family.
“More will be posted on the News & Event page later. For now, our prayers are with the Crawford family,” the statement continues. “Welcome to all the folks who admire Johnny Crawford and appreciate what he accomplished in television, film, and popular music since the 1950s.”
According to the statement, Crawford was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago and had recent battles with COVID-19 and pneumonia.
“Sadly, Johnny was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and he was living in a memory care residence before contracting COVID-19, then pneumonia. After a temporary placement at a skilled nursing facility, he was recently moved to an excellent smaller care home close to his wife. He had his loving family supervising and his friends doing window and patio visits for his safety,” his website states. “As cruel as Alzheimer’s disease is, Johnny still had that warm smile and sparkle in his eyes, and he was surrounded by people who love him unconditionally.”
Born John Ernest Crawford in Los Angeles into a theatrical and musical family – his paternal grandfather worked for Irving Berlin – Crawford was only six when his Sunday school teacher, who was also an agent, began finding work for the talented child. Auditioning for The Mickey Mouse Club with a rendition of the Johnnie Ray hit “Cry,” Crawford got the gig and appeared in 16 episodes of what would become the Boomer Generation’s foundational childhood series.
During his Rifleman popularity, Crawford recorded several albums, releasing a string of singles, the most popular being the whispery “Cindy’s Birthday,” which reached No. 8 on the charts in June 1962.
Crawford stayed busy with guest appearances on episodic TV throughout the ’60s and well into the ’70s, with credits including Rawhide, Lancer, The Big Valley, Hawaii Five-O, Little House on the Prairie, and, later, Murder She Wrote. He co-starred with Kim Darby in the 1965 film The Restless Ones, and the same year with Beau Bridges, Ron Howard and Tommy Kirk in the juvenile-delinquent-sci-fi camp classic Village of the Giants. He appeared with John Wayne in 1967’s El Dorado and Victoria Principal in 1973’s The Naked Ape.
From 1965-67, Crawford served in the U.S. Army, and later, though he occasionally appeared on TV through the 1990s, devoted himself increasingly to music, performing as the lead vocalist with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks in the 1980s and, in the ’90s, performing with The Johnny Crawford Dance Orchestra specializing in Big Band jazz and swing.