WikimediaCommons / ABC Television, Alias Smith and Jones 1971
Source: WikimediaCommons / ABC Television, Alias Smith and Jones 1971

‘Alias Smith and Jones’ Star Pete Duel ‘Never Wanted to Do’ TV Series & Was Later Found Dead

Monica Otayza
Jun 04, 2019
04:46 P.M.
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Pete Duel sadly died early on in his career, and his tragic end was a shock to many. He is remembered fondly for his portrayal of Hannibal Heyes on a hit show in the 1970s called "Alias Smith & Jones."

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Peter Duel was born in Rochester, New York to Dr. Ellsworth S. Deuel and Lillian M. Ellstrom. He grew up in a well-to-do home and lived a comfortable life.

When he began acting, Duel tried to hide his wealthy background by changing his way of speaking and dressing in a lower-end fashion. The facade didn't last very long as many learned of his origins. 

Photo of Pete Duel, William Windom and Ben Murphy from the television series "Alias Smith and Jones" on March 25, 1971. | Source: Getty Images

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PETE DUEL'S CAREER

When people found out about his personal background, Duel went about living as himself, acting only as required for his job. It paid off most notably in 1971 on "Alias Smith & Jones." 

There, Duel played Hannibal Heyes alongside "Kid" Curry, two outlaws who were trying to avoid trouble with the law. When he first got the part, Duel was happy to be taking a step up from previous smaller appearances on television.

Pete Duel and Ben Murphy for "Alias Smith and Jones" circa 1972 | Source: Getty Images

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WANTING MORE FROM HIS CAREER

Ultimately, though, he wanted to do more. Duel wanted to become a movie star. Although the show scratched his itch, the show did not last as long as he had hoped. 

The light-hearted show did well at first, but the scriptwriting quality went down and the ratings dropped with it. Along with the show's demise, Duel's mental health also suffered. 

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DEALING WITH ALCOHOL ADDICTION

During his relationship with Dianne Ray, Duel felt secure. However, due to the responsibilities he had to face, he had a difficult time balancing both his career and personal life. In the end, he and Ray broke up. 

Duel returned to alcohol abuse following their breakup. This time, things escalated to the point where he was arrested for drunk driving. He received two years probation for it, but things started looking up when Ray and Duel got back together. 

Pete Duel from the television series "Alias Smith and Jones" on August 16, 1971 | Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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SEARCHING FOR MORE

Yet life was clearly a roller coaster ride for Duel, whose emotions changed easily based on the show's success or lack of it. He reportedly took the low ratings much harder than the other actors. 

At the same time, Duel wanted more for himself and he wasn't getting it. An attempt to take the starring role in "The Scarecrow" was a success, while several of his other movies flopped.

Pete Duel on "Alias Smith and Jones" circa 1972 | Source: Getty Images

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A DOWNWARD SPIRAL

It seemed like the nail in the coffin came when Duel lost in the running for the Screen Actors Guild elections. The actor took the loss so hard that he framed the telegram informing him of the news then shot it. 

Duel quickly sank further into despair, seeing his coming season of the show as a cage that he should never have locked himself into. A few days later on December 30, he had a conversation with one of his few friends, Belinda Montgomery. 

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HIS LAST MOMENTS

After the conversation, his friend did not realize it would be the last time they'd ever speak. Duel came home and decided to have a drink.

He called over his girlfriend Ray to join him on the couch. The two watched TV together, including an airing on "Alias Smith & Jones."

BenMurphy and Pete Duel on the set of "Alias Smith and Jones" circa 1972 | Source: Getty Images

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PETE DUEL'S DEATH

At one point when Ray left the room, she allegedly heard a shot and came running, but was already too late. Duel lay lifeless near the Christmas tree as Ray called the authorities. 

At first, police discussed murder as a possibility. However, soon enough the case was deemed a "probable suicide," or more modestly, an "accidental death." 

Photo of Pete Duel from the short-lived television show "Gidget" circa 1966 | Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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HIS YOUNG LIFE WAS CUT SHORT

Duel was 31 when he died in the early hours of December 31. When his death went public, a prior interview revealed that Duel said he "never wanted to do" television series.

Of course, little can truly answer the question of why Duel did what he did that night. He was a famous actor who inspired many and more than did justice to his role in their eyes. 

Pete Duel, Judy Carne, Edith Atwater, and Herbert Voland from "Love on a Rooftop" in 1966 | Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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THE AFTERMATH

His fans were puzzled at how a Duel, who was at the peak of his career, would suddenly take his own life. While some tried to get to the bottom of it, no one really knows the whole truth except the late actor himself. 

However, some people like author Paul Green tried to make sense of what happened. He wrote a book titled "Peter Duel: A Biography." 

Pete Duel on the set of "Alias Smith and Jones" circa 1972 | Source: Getty Images

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WORDS FROM HIS SISTER

Although Green initially had a difficult time finding people to interview about Duel, his sister Pamela agreed to an interview after some convincing. She wrote the foreword of the book, where she called Duel her "hero, champion, protector, and loving brother." She added: 

"Peter was flawed, as we all are, but the true essence of him was evident in his acting. Perhaps that is one of the reasons he is remembered by so many today."

Pete Duel, Ben Murphy Appearing In 'Alias Smith And Jones' circa 1972 | Source: Getty Images

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LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD

In the foreword, Pamela described him as "reckless yet compassionate, volatile but vulnerable." In the end, she claimed that it was his tender heart that was his Achilles' heel, which ultimately led to his untimely death. 

The entertainment industry can be quite gruesome, especially to those who struggle to get to the top. For many in the past, ending their lives was a quick option to save them from the pain that came with fame. 

Ben Murphy, Pete Duel Appearing In 'Alias Smith And Jones' circa 1972 | Source: Getty Images

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Due to this tendency, more movements have sprung up in more recent years to help celebrities cope with all the problems and stress that come with the job. While the industry was not able to help many in the past, it hopes to be a lot better for those in the industry today.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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