March 28, 2021

Peter Breck — Remembering Life and Death of 'The Big Valley' Star

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Known best for playing Nick Barkley, Barbara Stanwyck's most temperamental son in the 1960s western series "The Big Valley," Hollywood actor Peter Breck passed away in 2012.

Peter Breck's death was confirmed by his wife, Diana. Breck started acting shortly after serving in the navy. During his time at the University of Houston, he studied drama and English.

Originally appearing at the Alley Theater in Houston, he moved to Arena Stage in Washington, where he was seen in "Man of Destiny" and offered a part in Robert Mitchum's film, "Thunder Road."

Peter Breck wears a cowboy outfit and leans on a saddle, circa 1950s. | Photo: Getty Images


Brooks Atkinson, the theater critic of the New York Times, was also there that night. In his reviews, Breck's effectiveness in the part has been noted as witticisms, clever invention, and energy.

In 1956, Breck made his television debut in an episode of "Sheriff of Cochise," which was not a western but a contemporary drama. However, westerns seem to be his particular vocation.

Peter Breck and Barbara Stanwyck pictured in 1966. | Photo: Getty Images


In 1959, he appeared in the TV series "Black Saddle," telling the story of a gunfighter who eventually becomes a lawyer. Starting in 1961, he portrayed Doc Holliday in a half-dozen episodes of "Maverick."

Breck's career took off following his success in TV, and he built his net worth to reach $5 million.

Peter Breck and Barbara Stanywck pictured in 1965. | Photo: Getty Images


"The Big Valley" starred Breck from 1965 to 1969. The cast as a whole would go on to enjoy success, but working with Barbara Stanwyck was particularly meaningful to Breck. They developed a close bond.

During the same time period, Breck's role on "The Big Valley" paved the way for guest-starring roles in other hit series like "Fantasy Island," "The Six Million Dollar Man," and "The Dukes of Hazzard."

Cast of "The Big Valley" posing together, circa 1965. | Photo: Getty Images


By this time, the acclaimed actor had landed roles in several genres and emerged as a recognizable face in the sitcom business thanks to his role as Sham-Ir in two of the "I Dream of Jeannie" movies.

Breck's career took off following his success in TV, and he built his net worth to reach $5 million, leading him to open the Breck Academy as a place where budding stars can cultivate their craft.

Peter Breck and Janis Hansen pictured in 1968. | Photo: Getty Images


A report stated that Breck is the fastest gun draw in Hollywood. His ability to draw his gun is said to have taken just 16/100ths of a second, making Nick Barkley the quickest shooter in television history.

After a long illness, Breck, who grew up living with his grandparents in Massachusetts, died on February 6, 2012. His was 82. In the Big Valley Writing Desk, Diana, his wife, announced his death.