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Falcon Crest Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

From 1981 to 1990, the CBS primetime soap opera "Falcon Crest" presented viewers with a peek into the lives of a wealthy California winemaking family. What they learned was not dissimilar to the lessons peddled on competing series like "Dallas" and "Dynasty": All the money in the world can't buy you happiness — or sanity. 

Created by Earl Hamner, Jr. (of "The Waltons" fame) Falcon Crest — the series and winery — was dominated by matriarch, Angela Channing (Jane Wyman), who made meddling in her family's lives a second business to producing table-worthy reds and whites. Under her thumb, to varying degrees, was her nephew Chase Gioberti (Robert Foxworth), his wife Maggie (Susan Sullivan), daughter Julia (Abby Dalton), illegitimate and aggrieved son Richard (David Selby) and hot-to-trot grandson Lance (Lorenzo Lamas). Complicating their already tumultuous lives was a host of up-and-coming actors (Margaret Ladd, Ana Alicia) and a galaxy of former Hollywood stars, including Lana Turner, Kim Novak, Cesar Romero, and Ursula Andress. 

Though never a ratings juggernaut (its highest peak was 7th in Season 3) or an award magnet (Jane Wyman won its sole Golden Globe, and its only Emmy went to series composer Joel Rosenbaum), "Crest" remains well-remembered by fans of sudsy '80s programming. Having ended its network run over 30 years ago, many of its cast members are no longer with us — so let's take a fond look back at some actors from the series you may not realize passed away.

Jane Wyman's Angela Channing ruled Falcon Crest

Jane Wyman had been retired from acting for nearly two decades when she was offered the role of Angela Channing, the domineering owner of the Falcon Crest winery and matriarch of a large, complicated, and scheming family. But Wyman — an Academy Award winner in 1948 for the drama "Johnny Belinda" — found Angela's take-charge attitude appealing and signed on to the series. Earl Hamner, Jr. was grateful for Wyman's interest, noting that her kindly screen image added a dash of sympathy to what was perceived as a mean-spirited character.

Wyman ruled "Falcon Crest" with an iron hand for the show's entire network run, appearing in nearly every episode save for a handful in Seasons 5 and 9 due to health issues. The series not only revived her career with a hit network series and a Golden Globe win in 1984, but battled back against a decade-plus of focus on her marriage to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan from 1938 to 1949, which risked undermining a long and celebrated film and television career that included such classics as "The Lost Weekend," "The Yearling," Alfred Hitchcock's "Stage Fright," and "The Glass Menagerie." Wyman died in her sleep from natural causes at the age of 90 on September 10, 2007.

Abby Dalton's Julia: from winemaker to fugitive

Pity poor Julia Cumson. What seemed at first like a happy life on her family's vineyard turned ugly before "Falcon Crest" even aired its first episode: Her mother turned away her husband Tony Cumson (played by John Saxon), and a second chance at romance became a disaster when she murdered her lover Carlo Agretti when he attempted to take over Falcon Crest.

When confronted about the killing, she flew into a rage and committed a second murder — this time her own aunt, Jacqueline Perrault (Lana Turner). Sentenced to life in prison, her family had her committed to an asylum — which she escaped in an attempt to kill her mother. She failed, and appeared to be killed in a fire, but Julia survived and went on the run. Eventually she would turn herself in and be dispatched to a convent — which must have been a relief after all that family lunacy.

As Julia, Abby Dalton was a series regular on the first four seasons of "Falcon Crest" before her role became a recurring one in Seasons 5 and 6. Dalton had been a television actor and occasional film player since the late 1950s, and enjoyed starring roles in two primetime series: "Hennessey" (1959-1962) and "The Joey Bishop Show" (1962-1965). "Crest" was undeniably her biggest TV hit, though she remained active as a celebrity guest on numerous game shows. 

In 1989, her small-screen family became a part of her real life when Lorenzo Lamas (who played her son Lance on "Falcon Crest") married her daughter, actress Kathleen Kinmont. After a long illness, Dalton died at the age of 88 on November 23, 2020.

Chao-Li Chi was Angela's faithful chauffeur

Business partners, children, husbands, and lovers may have come and gone for Angela Channing, but she had at least one constant throughout the entire network run of "Falcon Crest." She had Chao-Li, an elderly and elegant Chinese man, to serve as her dutiful chauffeur. 

Those tasks largely encompassed Chao-Li's role on the series, though on occasion, he served as a sounding board for Angela's most devious schemes He was also occasionally afforded secondary storylines: He taught Lance martial arts in several episodes, and his seismologist daughter, Li-Ying (played by Rosalind Chao) arrived in Season 5 to predict the earthquake that served as that season's cliffhanger ending.

Actor Chao-Li Chi played Chao-Li in all nine seasons of "Falcon Crest." The former dancer, who performed with experimental filmmaker Maya Deren in the 1940s, also acted in features and on television from the 1960s to the mid-2000s. His list of credits included Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige," John Carpenter's "Big Trouble in Little China," Clint Eastwood's "Blood Work," and "The Joy Luck Club," which reunited him with Rosalind Chao. Chi, who also taught T'ai Chi and philosophy classes at various colleges throughout Los Angeles, died at the age of 83 at his home in Granada Hills, California, on October 16, 2010.

Mel Ferrer's Philip: crooked lawyer and Angela's husband No. 2

The very definition of an underhanded lawyer, Philip Erikson represented Angela Channing in the first three seasons of "Falcon Crest," while also courting the vineyard matriarch. He kept Angela out of the spotlight during the investigation into the death of her brother Jason, which dominated the whole first season, and later abetted her various plans to retain power over her nephew Chase and other members of the family. Eventually, Angela and Philip married — but the union was short-lived, as he and Cliff Robertson's Dr. Michael Ransom perished in a plane crash that capped Season 3.

Actor-producer Mel Ferrer played Philip in the first three seasons of "Crest," for which he was a recurring player until joining the cast for the third season. Ferrer (who was not related to Oscar-winning actor Jose Ferrer or his son, TV veteran Miguel Ferrer) was perhaps best known for his screen collaborations with wife Audrey Hepburn, with whom he co-starred in "War and Peace" in 1960 and later produced "Wait Until Dark" as a vehicle for her in 1967.

Ferrer was also familiar to cult movie fans for numerous '70s and '80s European horror titles, including the zombie chiller "City of the Walking Dead." He logged his final acting role in the 1995 TV movie "Catherine the Great," starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, and died at the age of 90 in Santa Barbara, California on June 2, 2008.

Tough Rod Taylor got taken by the Channings

When you're a wealthy and powerful vineyard owner and you're sent to a mental hospital by your duplicitous family, what's the best way to grab back what's yours? Marry an old family friend, of course. Screen legend Rod Taylor was drafted for that particular plot twist, playing Frank Agretti, who discovered that Falcon Crest belonged to his family — only to lose it again when crazy niece Melissa (Ana Alicia) took control of the business.

Son Nick (David Beecroft) was then handed the keys to Falcon Crest, but Angela stole it away only to have her son Richard (David Selby) take it by consigning her to an institution. Angela and Frank gained it back by agreeing to a marriage of convenience, but in typical "Crest" fashion, nothing went right for anyone but Angela. Frank's sister-in-law Genele (Andrea Thompson) then pinned the murder of his former wife on him, and all of Frank's bravado and good deeds earned him a prison sentence. The series closed with Angela looking forward to his release. Gee, thanks.

Australian actor Rod Taylor was a brawny presence in dozens of memorable films from the 1960s to the 2000s. He was a capable hero in the 1960 film version of "The Time Machine" (1960) and Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," a tough lead in the cult favorites "Dark of the Sun" and "Darker Than Amber," and a steady guest player on TV in the 1980s, including a run on "Walker, Texas Ranger." Taylor capped his impressive career in 2009 by playing Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds." He died from a heart attack four days before his 85th birthday on January 7, 2015.

Cult hero John Saxon turned up as Tony Cumson

The fallout from Angela Channing's iron grip on her business included many characters outside her immediate family. Case in point: Julia's husband, Tony, whom Angela forced to abandon his wife and son, Lance. He resurfaced after 12 years of absence in Season 1's (appropriately titled) "Tony Comes Home," attempting to make up for lost time. But Angela's presence proved too strong for even family bonds to break, and Tony vanished again with Kim Novak's Kit Marlowe in Season 7.

Rugged character actor John Saxon played Tony in all but one episode — Season 2's "Choices," for which he was briefly replaced by another dependable player, Oscar- and Emmy nominee Robert Loggia of "Big" and "Fatal Attraction" fame. Saxon's long career was dotted with legendary features like "Enter the Dragon" and dozens of cult classics, including "A Nightmare on Elm Street," "From Dusk To Dawn," "Battle Beyond the Stars" and the original "Black Christmas."

A 1958 Golden Globe winner for New Star of the Year in 1958, Saxon worked with everyone from Clint Eastwood and Marlon Brando to Mario Bava and David Cronenberg, and alternated appearances on "Falcon Crest" with another primetime soap, "Dynasty," for which he played oil magnate Rashid Ahmed. Saxon retired from acting in 2015 and died from complications of pneumonia 11 days before his 84th birthday on July 25, 2020.

Cesar Romero was Angela's Husband No. 3

Angela Channing's third husband (of four) on "Falcon Crest" was Greek tycoon Peter Stavros, whom she initially called upon in Season 5 to help her rescue the business from ruin. An old flame from Angela's youth, he quickly put on a full-court press to not only rekindle the relationship, but make her his wife — with the added bonus of half-ownership of Falcon Crest. The marriage had a couple of false starts (Peter was kidnapped at one point), but finally got off the ground just in time for Angela to disappear and Peter to take control of the business.

The marriage turned sweet and sour at various times while Peter was pulled into a bizarre plot involving Kit Marlowe, who was pretending to be his stepdaughter. This reached a delirious climax at the end of Season 6, as Peter committed murder before being fleeing San Francisco for good with Kit.

Hollywood legend Cesar Romero was tapped to play Peter Stavros; a favorite for romantic roles in the 1930s and 1940s, he settled comfortably into character parts on television in the 1950s. Romero enjoyed an unexpected second round of stardom in the late 1960s when he was cast as the Joker on ABC's "Batman" series and tie-in feature film. Steady guest roles on TV led to his two-season run as Peter Stavros; he died from complications of bronchitis and pneumonia at the age of 86 on January 1, 1994.

Simon MacCorkindale: Manimal turned lawyer

Representing Angela Channing in legal matters would try the patience of any lawyer, but Greg Reardon appeared to be up for the challenge. 

Over the course of 59 episodes, beginning with the Season 4 opener "Requiem," Greg found himself at odds with the Channings' underhanded business and family strategies. However, his interest appeared to be maintained with several high profile romances, including scheming Melissa Agretti (Ana Alicia) and Terry Hartford (Laura Johnson), before settling on attorney Jordan Roberts (Morgan Fairchild), who overcame her multiple personality disorder and fled the Tuscany Valley with him.

British actor Simon MacCorkindale may be best known in the States for cult titles like the 1980 sci-fi series "Manimal" and "Jaws 3-D," but his c.v. included numerous film and TV projects on both sides of the Atlantic, including the long-running UK medical drama "Casualty" and its spin-offs. MacCorkindale also served as co-producer on several action syndicated series, including "Relic Hunter" and "Adventure, Inc." and directed a handful of British features. Diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2006, he died from the disease at the age of 58 on October 14, 2010, two days before the passing of his "Crest" co-star, Chao-Li Chi.

Sleazy producer Bradford Dillman duped Maggie

In Season 2, Susan Sullivan's hard-working writer Maggie got a notion to pen a screenplay, and met with producer Darryl Clayton to bring it to the screen. Initially, he rejected the idea, but after an infusion of cash from Angela, Darryl went all in on the project — and Maggie herself, whom he rattled by making a move on her in Malibu. Eventually, the whole project and Darryl's involvement was revealed to be a scam engineered by Angela, to break up her marriage to Chase.

Lending seriousness to the sleaze machine that was Darryl Clayton was Bradford Dillman, a Golden Globe-winning actor who could move capably between high-brow drama like the crime drama "Compulsion" — for which he shared the Best Actor Award at Cannes with co-stars Orson Welles and Dean Stockwell — and crowd-pleasing titles like "Escape from the Planet of the Apes" and "The Enforcer," which was one of two Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry titles in which he appeared.

A TV vet whose small screen credits included "Columbo," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and "Night Gallery," Dillman was also a football expert and published a book on the New York Giants in 1995. He died from complications of pneumonia at the age of 87 on January 16, 2018.

Geoffrey Lewis taught Julia to shoot (bad idea)

For Julia Cumson, Season 2 of "Falcon Crest" became a long, unendurable nightmare after she shot Carlo Agretti at the end of the show's debut season. Consigned to prison and later, a mental institution by her relatives, she managed to escape and go on the lam, where she encountered Lucas Crosby. In addition to giving her shelter, Crosby taught her how to shoot a gun — which Julia put to use when she returned to Falcon Crest (dressed as a nun) to murder Angela.

Lucas Crosby was played by Geoffrey Lewis, a familiar face to TV and movie fans since the late 1960s. Best known for a series of collaborations with Clint Eastwood — Lewis appeared in "High Plains Drifter," "Any Which Way You Can," and "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," among others — his long list of credits included numerous cult favorites like the 1979 TV-movie take on "'Salem's Lot," Rob Zombie's "The Devil's Rejects," and "Night of the Comet." A prolific TV guest star, Lewis also netted a Golden Globe nomination in 1981 for the "Alice" spin-off "Flo."

Lewis had 10 children, and several followed him into the acting business, most notably Oscar and Emmy nominee Juliette Lewis. After completing the 2012 indie horror "Mommy's Little Monster," Lewis died of a heart attack at the age of 79 on April 7, 2015.

Lana Turner joined the constellation of stars

For six episodes in Seasons 1 and 2 of "Falcon Crest," Jacqueline Perrault gave Angela Channing a run for her money in the dangerous diva department. 

The mother of Chase Gioberti, Jacqueline put herself in Angela's crosshairs by having an affair with her first husband Douglas, and the enmity flared up anew when Jacqueline turned up in Season 1's "Family Reunion." Sparks flew almost immediately, with the pair spending much of their time backstabbing each other or engaging in venomous repartee. An attempt to undermine the Channings by claiming that Richard was her son went wrong, and Jacqueline wound up dead in the Season 3 opener — murdered by her niece Julia in a shooting spree.

When Lana Turner, a major Hollywood star in the 1940s, signed on to play Jacqueline, she had been absent from features for decades and made only occasional forays on television. A sultry presence in thrillers like "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and the sudsy "Peyton Place" (which earned her an Oscar nomination), Turner's life was marked by scandal — most notably in 1958 when her boyfriend Johnny Stompanato was stabbed to death by her daughter Cheryl Crane. She also struggled with alcoholism in her post-stardom years. 

Despite unfounded rumors that she and Wyman battled off-camera, "Falcon Crest" offered a high-profile comeback. But it proved short-lived — she remained largely off-screen after the end of her guest run, and died of cancer complications at the age of 74 on June 29, 1995.

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Before Uncle Ben, Cliff Robertson was Dr. Ranson

"Falcon Crest" was already full of actors from Hollywood's Golden Age when actor Cliff Robertson signed on for a guest role. 

In his debut episode, the Season 3 opener "Cimmerian Dawn," Robertson was featured alongside series star Jane Wyman, Mel Ferrer, and Raymond St. Jacques — although the majority of his arc on the show as Chase Gioberti's cousin (neurosurgeon Michael Ranson) paired him with Laura Johnson's manipulative Terry Hartford. The couple married, despite warnings about her scandalous past, and she received the majority of his fortune when he perished in the plane wreck that closed out Season 3.

Robertson's long acting career began in the 1940s and encompassed guest roles on '50s TV like "The Twilight Zone," an acclaimed turn as President John F. Kennedy in "PT 109," and an Academy Award-winning performance as a mentally disabled man in "Charly." He moved into character roles in the 1980s and 1990s, playing Hugh Hefner in "Star 80," a deranged U.S. president in John Carpenter's "Escape from LA," and lent considerable warmth to three turns as Peter Parker's beloved Uncle Ben in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" and its two sequels. "Spider-Man 3" was his final on-screen acting appearance: Robertson died from natural causes one day after his 88th birthday on September 10, 2011.

Robert Stack made trouble

What's worse than one vicious, manipulative, double-dealing millionaire? How about two of them? 

That was the situation in Season 6 when Angela teamed with wealthy (and shady) businessman Roland Saunders to eliminate Richard Channing. But Saunders had a second agenda — he wanted to eliminate the mysterious Kit Marlowe (Kim Novak), who was pretending to be Peter Stavros's dead stepdaughter — and unleashed several goons (among them a pre-"Breaking Bad" Jonathan Banks) to carry out the hit. Saunders himself was bumped off when Stavros whacked him in the head with a wrench.

Roland Saunders was a rare villainous turn for Oscar-nominated actor Robert Stack, who had risen to stardom in the 1950s as Agent Elliot Ness on "The Untouchables." Stack, who won an Emmy for the role, played his share of upstanding heroes throughout the '60s and '70s until his talent for dry comedy was put to good use in "1941," "Airplane!" and other films. He also returned to TV fame this period as the host of the long-running "Unsolved Mysteries" crime series. Stack, who underwent treatment for prostate cancer in 2002, died of heart failure the following year at the age of 84.

Roscoe Lee Browne was the elegantly evil leader of the Thirteen

One of the most outrageous storylines on "Falcon Crest" involved The Thirteen, a cabal of wealthy and undeniably evil businessmen who courted David as a member in Season 7 and were led by the mysterious "Rosemont." Upon discovering their plan to disrupt the stock market and profit from buying devalued stocks, Richard attempted to rat out the Thirteen to the feds, only to discover that he had made a deadly enemy. The group brainwashed Peter Stavros's son Eric (John Callahan) and dispatched him to kill Richard. However, in classic soap opera fashion, Richard escaped his fate and the tables were turned on the nefarious group as U.S Senator Peter Ryder (Charles Frank) sent his brother (Ed Marinaro) to eliminate them.

Rosemont was played by Roscoe Lee Browne, an Emmy-winning actor whose sonorous voice lent dignity and urbanity to every screen role. His lengthy film credits included Alfred Hitchcock's "Topaz" and "Logan's Run," though television afforded him greater exposure through guest appearances on "Soap," "The Cosby Show," and "Law & Order," as well as numerous voice-acting roles, most notably as the narrator for "Babe," the Kingpin on the '90s "Spider-Man" animated series (which netted him a Daytime Emmy nomination), and career-capping work as himself narrating the trippy tale of Anna Faris' stoner in 2007's "Smiley Face." The 84-year-old Browne died of stomach cancer in Los Angeles on April 11, 2007.