Actor Dan Blocker found fame after a teaching career but wanted his wife and children to live a life as usual as possible. When he died at age 43, his son followed in his footsteps.
Dan Blocker met his wife, Dolphia Parker, while at college. She was born on a ranch in Oklahoma, where her parents raised quarter horses. Dolphia worked as part of a stage crew for the play "Arsenic and Lace" and met Blocker under unpleasant circumstances.
While Blocker watched the play, he was mocking cast members, and Parker was forced to ask him to leave the auditorium. But his feelings for her made him behave so he could get back into her good graces.
Dan Blocker and his young son, Dirk Blocker, Dan Blocker as Eric 'Hoss' Cartwright on "Bonanza." Source: Dirk Blocker/Getty Images
When Parker realized that Dan was enamored with acting, she encouraged him to pursue that path instead of playing football. He performed in numerous plays, including Noel Coward's "Fumed Oak," where he played a despicable husband who abandoned his wife, a character played by his sweetheart Parker.
ACTING AND LOVE INTERRUPTED BY WAR
Blocker had a fledgling theatre career with Parker a mere year into their growing romance, but he had to put everything on hold to serve in the Korean War. He spent nine months in Japan and spent his last nine months in Korea, and he even rose the ranks to sergeant.
In 1951 on Christmas Eve, Blocker and his squad were trapped by the enemy on Hill 255 for 10 hours. He was soon discharged in 1952, and only two days later, he married Parker in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
American actor Dan Blocker in his dressing room at the London Palladium, 9th May 1966.| Source: Getty Images
THE CHALLENGES OF MARRIED LIFE
Shortly after their wedding, Blocker and Parker returned to Sul Ross, where he pursued his masters in drama and English. He also obtained a teaching certificate where he taught everything from government to biology.
The couple struggled to make ends meet even as Blocker worked as a substitute teacher. He decided to fall back on acting to make more money. The couple had four children in close succession. Twins Debra Lee and Danna Lynn were born in 1953. David was born in 1955, and Dirk in 1957.
Blocker made his television debut in "The Sheriff of Cochise" in 1956. His career grew steadily as he appeared for short roles, mainly in Westerns. In 1958 he was cast in a recurring role in "Cimarron City," which was canceled after one season.
Actor Dan Blocker in costume as he leans against a cart, with a horse in the background, in a publicity portrait issued for the television series, 'Bonanza' in 970. | Source: Silver Screen Collection/ Getty Images
The show's cancellation freed Blocker to feature as Hoss Cartwright in the show "Bonanza." The show's fame saw the Blocker family featured in a profile in a magazine, and one day, a reader wrote to the magazine asking to see a picture of his wife.
But Blocker was not interested in fame and was in the acting industry to make a living. "I still can't believe that people are that interested in me," he said, "If they don't have anything more to concern them than Hoss Cartwright, then what hope is there?"
He was especially offended when people grabbed him on the street to tell him how much they loved him and his acting. He hated being pulled and tugged and didn't want people to put their hands on him.
American actors Michael Landon, Dan Blocker, and Pernell Williams, and Canadian actor Lorne Green, for the television program, 'Bonanza,' in 1965. | Source: Paramount Pictures/Getty Images
PROTECTING THE CHILDREN FROM BLOCKER'S UNWANTED FAME
Blocker's popularity from "Bonanza" made it increasingly difficult to give his four children a normal upbringing. When he and his wife would take the children out for ice cream, they would inevitably be surrounded by doting fans of all ages. He said:
"A man never appreciates his privacy until he's lost it. And it bugs me, it really bugs me. I try to keep the family normal, unaffected by Father's so-called celebrity. It's a losing battle."
Blocker remained a doting father who tried to spend as much time with his children. He would play with them as soon as he got home from work, using his sizeable 260-pound frame to muscle his way past his children playfully.
BLOCKER'S UNTIMELY DEATH SHOCKED FELLOW ACTORS
13 years into playing Hoss Cartwright in "Bonanza," Blocker underwent surgery to remove his gall bladder and was soon released from the hospital. A few hours after returning home, he started complaining about feeling dizzy and in pain.
His wife quickly drove him to the hospital, and later in the day, he died unexpectantly. His autopsy confirmed that he suffered a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot traveled to his lung and blocked one of his arteries.
His death was a shock to his family and his co-stars. Lorne Green, who played Ben Cartwright in the series, said he could barely put his shock into words. He also said, "Our personal relationship was like brothers or father and son." His wife and daughter were by his side when he died, and his sons were traveling in Europe.
HOW DIRK CAUGHT DAD'S ACTING BUG
Blocker's son, Dirk, was not very interested in acting until he spent some time on set with his dad. "His schedule was such that this was one of the only ways to spend a lot of time with him," Dirk said, showing just how committed Blocker was as a dad.
Dirk added that his dad's love for acting carried over to him, and he soon started booking guest roles on "Little House on the Prairie." He has worked in many film and TV productions such as "The Border," "Poltergeist," and "21 Jump Street." Between acting jobs, Dirk earned his bachelor of arts degree so he could teach learners.
Even though growing up with a famous father stripped Dirk of any desire for fame, his acting talent has brought him a successful career in Hollywood. He recently starred as Detective Michael Hitchcock in the hugely successful NBC comedy series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."
Dirk married Danielle Aubuchon in 1990, and they have two children together. He regularly speaks about his love for her. On one Valentine's Day, he tweeted an image of them while dating and said:
Falling for the person who's made me this happy, and having her feel the same way, has made for a glorious life together. Happy Valentines Day!
Dirk also often pays tribute to Dan. In 2021, he tweeted a photo of his father and said that hardly a day ever went by without him thinking of and being influenced by his dad. He also encouraged people to reach out to their parents to tell them how they felt in his tweet.