Actor Richard Farnsworth Dies
Updated 11:55 PM ET October 6, 2000
LINCOLN, N.M. (AP) - Actor Richard Farnsworth, a former stuntman and two-time Academy Award nominee, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Friday night. He was 80.
Farnsworth, who had been involved in filmmaking for more than 60 years, was nominated this year for an Oscar for best actor for his performance in "The Straight Story."
Lincoln County Sheriff Tom Sullivan released a statement Friday night saying Farnsworth died at his home in Lincoln, about 250 miles southeast of Albuquerque. Police did not release any further details, but Farnsworth's fiancee, Jewely Van Valin, was at home when he died.
"I was just in the other room and I heard the shot," she said in a telephone interview from Farnsworth's home. "He was incredible pain today. He was going down hill."
Van Valin said Farnsworth was diagnosed several years ago with terminal cancer, which had left him partially paralyzed. He struggled with the pain while he was working on "The Straight Story," she said.
"He was very ill in that movie, but phenomenally he made it through. He didn't want the world to know he was sick," Van Valin said.
"He couldn't fight it, and cancer got him."
Farnsworth had said the heart of his performance in "The Straight Story," came from his respect for Alvin Straight, the real-life person on whom his portrayal of a 73-year-old man who rode a tractor across the country was based.
"I admired him very much and tried to be as much like his character as I could, talked to two of his boys, who are now truck drivers, and we filmed along his actual route. Every time we stopped somewhere, people would come by and say, 'Heck, I remember when old Alvin came through,' and tell us about it," he told The Associated Press last March.
At 79, Farnsworth was the oldest leading actor to receive an Oscar bid. "Titanic" star Gloria Stuart was the oldest performer ever nominated when she was nominated for supporting actress at 87.
"It feels a lot better because I'm getting up there in age and might not have a chance again," he said in an interview after he was nominated in February.
The Oscar went to Kevin Spacey, who won for his portrayal of a suburban father in "American Beauty."
It was the second nomination for Farnsworth, who was nominated for the 1978 film "Comes a Horseman." Henry Fonda had been the oldest leading actor when he was nominated at 76 for his role in "On Golden Pond."
Farnsworth was a poor student who dropped out of school during the Depression at age 15 and went to work as a stable boy at a polo barn.
Two years later, in 1937, two men from the Paramount studio came by looking for ponies and mentioned they needed someone who could ride horses on film. Farnsworth took the job, which paid $7 a day, about what he had been making per week.
The Los Angeles native was a stuntman for more than 30 years who moved into acting at age 57, appearing in "The Grey Fox," "The Natural," "Tom Horn," "Resurrection," "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Anne of Green Gables."
His 50-year-old son, Diamond Farnsworth, followed in his footsteps and has become a top stuntman, doubling for Sylvester Stallone in the first two "Rambo" movies.
Since his appearance in "Comes a Horseman," Farnsworth has acted in nearly three dozen films and TV movies.
In 1990, Farnsworth moved out of his home of 40 years in the Hollywood Hills and came to the outskirts of Lincoln, a town of 565 in the foothills of two mountain ranges that is known for Billy the Kid's famous escape.