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James Drury Died Months after Wife of 40 Years – He Had Several Heartbreaks before His 'Wonderful Marriage'

Oyin Balogun
Mar 02, 2022
11:40 A.M.
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James Drury did not easily succeed when it came to finding his perfect partner. However, after two failed attempts, the actor had a "wonderful marriage" with his third wife until it ended in tragedy. Shortly after the tragedy, he passed away.


Although Drury is one of the respectable western stars, he was born in New York and his dad, of Irish descent, worked as a professor in marketing and advertising at New York University.

Drury did not inherit his father's academic skills; instead, he loved horse riding, as he became familiar with it at a young age. The New York native grew up on his grandfather's ranch in Oregon, where he liked animals and the outdoor lifestyle.

James Drury stars as the titular character in television series "The Virginian," circa 1965. [left], Actor Drury appears in the television show, "The Virginian" [right]. | Source: Getty Images


Before his demise, the "The Virginian" alum often shared his earliest memories of being on a horse. Drury revealed that he was put on a Belgian plow horse by his maternal grandfather when he was a toddler.

Despite his affinity for the animals on the ranch, Drury stayed in school, shuffling between New York and the ranch. He participated in school plays, toured with a theatrical company during adolescence, and later majored in drama at New York University.

James Drury in a publicity portrait from the television series 'The Virginian', 1962 | Source: Getty Images


However, he did not graduate from his father's University because he left for UCLA, where he studied horticulture and animal husbandry. After graduating from UCLA, he secured a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer company and began appearing on screens by 1955.

Shortly after the minor roles, Drury realized his passion for TV westerns and appeared in several western productions, including "Bronco," "The Texan," "Gunsmoke," "Rawhide," and "Bonanza."

James Drury played leading role in The Virginian. | Source: Getty Images


Thanks to his grandfather's ranch exposure, which made him an expert horse rider, the actor found it easier working on such productions. His skills were also helpful in getting his most iconic role in "The Virginian." Decades later, Drury admitted his grandfather's influence.

He said, "My grandfather, John Crawford, was a quintessential Westerner. He came West with a wagon train when he was 16 and settled in Oregon. He had been a cowboy, rancher, dirt farmer — all the things of the land that you can be. I was very proud to use some of his mannerisms and expressions in "The Virginian."

James Drury as The Virginian, Doug McClure as Trampas, Gary Clarke as Steve Hill | Source: Getty Images


The NBC series did not last, but Drury confessed that his time on set was grueling. The show aired for ninety minutes with an organized schedule synonymous with making a movie.

Despite the workload, it was canceled in 1971, after over two hundred episodes. The only two westerns that lasted longer were "Bonanza" and "Gunsmoke." Following this, Drury appeared in other TV series. By the end of the 1970s, he struggled to remain relevant in Hollywood.

Eventually, the TV westerns star left the movie scenes, dedicating his life to business. First, he co-founded a ranch that raised Appaloosa horses; then, he created a company that recycled asphalt before becoming an oil and gas business magnate.



American actor James Drury, circa 1965. | Source: Getty Images

Drury's first wife was Cristall Orton. Their marriage began in 1957 before the actor found fame. The union produced two sons, Timothy and James Drury Jr. Unfortunately, the couple split in 1964.


The actor's second wife was Phyllis Mitchell, who starred in "Die Hard" and "Predator." Their marriage did not produce any child, and it lasted for about a decade.

Actor Drury as he appears in television show, the Virginian. | Source: Getty Images


After two failed marriages, the "Gunsmoke" actor met Carl Ann Drury. They began dating in 1975 but tied the knot four years later. This was the best marriage of his life. Drury revealed that he spent time with his third wife, and they enjoyed their adorable relationship. While describing their marriage, he said:

"wonderful marriage to a gal I've been with since 1975. Carl Ann and I were married on July 30, 1979. I spend a lot of time with her."

The couple remained inseparable from the beginning of their marriage until it ended in 2019 after Ann's death. Being without his partner of forty years was tough, but somehow, Drury was able to hang on for seven months.


James Drury, Michael DeLano, Richard Jaeckel, Brad David, Bill Overton promotional photo for the ABC tv series 'Firehouse'. | Source: Getty Images

He lived life how Ann would want him to, but by 2020, his assistant announced his death from natural causes—he was 85 years old. 


The "Bonanza" star lived a remarkable life enthralled by love for horses, acting, businesses, and, most importantly, family. Drury's most significant achievements remain his kids from his first marriage. Despite two other unions, the actor never welcomed more kids. 

His children established successful careers, and they had a close relationship with him. Timothy is in awe of his dad's Hollywood legacy, despite finding passion and pursuing a career in music instead.

James Drury appearing in the ABC tv series 'Firehouse'. | Source: Getty Images


Drury's eldest son is a full-time keyboardist with notable achievements and talents. He has worked with known stars like Bryan Adams, Don Felder, Stevie Nicks, the "Eagles," and Melissa Etheridge.

Timothy is also skilled in composing for short films, documentaries, and commercials. He is also into photography, producing, recording, performing, and songwriting.

The keyboardist is a happily married man. He exchanged vows with Kate, a senior project manager at McGarryBowen in 2018. Unlike his composer brother, James Drury Jr. decided to live away from the spotlight. Very little is known about him, and there are no public photos. 


Musician Timothy Drury, former member of the band Whitesnake, performs onstage at Fred Kavli Theatre on November 03, 2019 | Source: Getty Images

Apart from his sons, the Drury name lives on in the lifestyle and hearts of his stepsons and stepdaughter, Frederick Drury, Gary Schero, and Rhonda Brown. Four grandchildren and several great-grandchildren also survive him.

Drury remains a heroic figure in the minds of many and TV lovers continue to respect the memory of the spectacular cowboy who loved doing many of his stunts in "The Virginian."