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The Dukes Of Hazzard Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

For TV viewers of a certain age, the voice of Waylon Jennings makes them nostalgic for Friday nights on CBS in the 1970s and '80s. That was the night the network typically aired "The Dukes of Hazzard," the show about two fun-lovin', fast-drivin' brothers from Georgia who were always one step ahead of the law.

It's one of the rare shows in TV history that wasn't meant to be nearly as successful as it was. It was originally planned to be a nine-episode midseason replacement for CBS' 1979 lineup, but fans fell in love with Bo, Luke, and Daisy Duke, as well as their nemesis, Boss Hogg. CBS kept it around for 146 episodes over six seasons.

"The Dukes of Hazzard" aired its final episode in 1985, almost 40 years ago. Because many of its cast members were already well into middle-age, many of them are no longer with us. Here are the "Dukes of Hazzard" cast members you may not know have died.

James Best lived until almost 90

James Best died in 2015 in Hickory, NC at the age of 88. Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane was by far his most well-known role, but Best's acting career spanned six decades. His first credited screen role came in 1950, and his last was in 2013.

Before landing the role of Sheriff Coltrane on "The Dukes of Hazzard" in 1979, Best was a prolific film and TV actor, often appearing on Western movies and shows. He made guest appearances on everything from "Rawhide" to "Bonanza" and "Hopalong Cassidy." Aside from westerns, Best also appeared on some of the most iconic shows of all time, like "The Fugitive," "The Twilight Zone," and "The Mod Squad." 

Best mainly landed dramatic roles earlier in his career, so Sheriff Roscoe was a bit of a departure from his previous work. But Best proved to be a naturally gifted comedic actor who often had his fellow cast members cracking up. His co-star and good friend Sorrell Booke often improvised the dialogue in their scenes together.

Sorrell Booke died of cancer

Sorrell Booke, 64, died in 1994 in Sherman Oaks, California. Boss Hogg was by far his most iconic character. The fact that Sorrell Booke made Boss Hogg into such an icon is even more impressive considering the fact that Booke in real life could not have been more different than the character. To many, Boss Hogg was the epitome of a Deep South small-town good ol' boy. But Sorrell Booke described himself as "an ordinary guy from Buffalo [New York]."

Like Best, Booke also had a long and busy career in film and television, with his first screen credit coming in 1952. He had many notable roles beyond "The Dukes of Hazzard." In 1964 he received his first and only Emmy nomination for an appearance on "Dr. Kildare." He had recurring roles on the classic sitcoms "All in the Family" and "Soap." He also appeared in dozens of films, including "Freaky Friday," "The Iceman Cometh," and "Slaughterhouse-Five."

Denver Pyle died shortly after getting a Walk of Fame star

Denver Pyle died on Christmas Day, 1997, at the age of 77, less than two weeks after he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (per The Washington Post). On "The Dukes of Hazzard," he played Uncle Jesse, the wise father figure to Bo and Luke. According to his obituary, Pyle played the role so authentically that fans would write to him decades later, telling him they still thought of him as a family member.

Uncle Jesse was his most well-known role, but certainly not his only major one. Earlier in his career, he was a staple in westerns, appearing in the films "The Alamo," "The Man who Shot Liberty Valance," and "Cahill, U.S. Marshal," and TV series like "Bonanza," "Gunsmoke," and "The Lone Ranger." 

While many of those roles were dramatic, Pyle also had some notable comedic roles besides Uncle Jesse. He played bumbling dad Briscoe Darling on several episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show," and also appeared on its spinoff, "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C." 

Christopher Mayer died younger than most

Christopher "Chip" Mayer died at just 57 on July 23, 2011. As an actor, the dark-haired Mayer was best known for replacing star Tom Wopat (Luke Duke) for the majority of the show's fifth season, which aired from 1982 to 1983. Coming into season 5, Wopat and co-star John Schneider (Bo Duke) couldn't agree to contract terms with CBS. The network responded by trying to write Wopat and Schneider off the show. CBS replaced them with Mayer and actor Byron Cherry, who were brought in to play cousins Vance and Coy Duke. (The show explained that the Duke boys had finally left Hazzard county to pursue their dreams of becoming NASCAR drivers.) 

Mayer and Cherry filled in admirably, but the ratings dropped. CBS caved to Wopat and Schneider's demands and brought them back for the final four episodes of the fifth season. Mayer and Cherry were then written off the show, although they did voice their respective characters for the only season of the animated series "The Dukes."

In addition to "The Dukes of Hazzard," Mayer was a series regular on the first and only season of Aaron Spelling's 1984-1985 primetime drama "Glitter." After that, he was a series regular on the soap opera "Santa Barbara," appearing in 180 episodes.

Peggy Rea acted for many decades

Peggy Rea died at the age of 89 in 2011. "Dukes of Hazzard" fans know her best as Lulu Hogg, wife of Boss Hogg. As a character, Lulu was pretty much the only person on the show who could intimidate Boss Hogg, and he often hid his criminal schemes from her. Despite their squabbles, Boss Hogg and Lulu genuinely loved each other.

Lulu Hogg was just one role in Rea's long career that included over 100 credits. She started out as a production secretary for MGM before moving to New York City to pursue acting in 1947. Her first onscreen credit was "I Love Lucy" in 1952, when she played a nurse. Her other notable roles include Rose Burton, cousin of Olivia Walton on "The Waltons" and Jean Kelly, the mother-in-law to Brett Butler's Grace Kelly, the main character of "Grace Under Fire." She also had recurring roles on "Have Gun Will Travel," "All in the Family," and "Step by Step."

Don Pedro Colley acted in many genres

Don Pedro Colley died in 2017 at 79 years old. On "The Dukes of Hazzard," he played Sheriff "Big Ed" Little, the top cop in neighboring Chickasaw County. Like Sheriff Coltrane, he hated the Duke boys and didn't want them in his county. Unlike Coltrane, Sheriff Little was honest. He was known for brandishing his trademark shotgun whenever the Duke boys encroached on his turf.

By the time Colley appeared on "The Dukes of Hazzard," he had already filmed most of the roles for which he was best known. Those include Gideon on the "Daniel Boone" TV series from 1968 to 1969; the hologram SRT in George Lucas' directorial debut, "THX"; and Ongaro in "Beneath the Planet of the Apes," the sequel to "Planet of the Apes." He was also a fixture in 1970s Blaxploitation cinema, appearing in films like "Black Caesar" and "Sugar Hill."

In addition to his acting career, Colley was an accomplished discus thrower and tried out for the 1960 Olympics.