Fleming in 1961
|Born||Edward Heddy, Jr.
July 4, 1925
Santa Paula, California, U.S.
|Died||September 28, 1966
Tingo María, Peru
|Cause of death||Drowned|
|Spouse(s)||Unmarried, no children|
Fleming was born in Santa Paula, California, an only child with an unhappy childhood. Born with a club foot, he needed crutches to get around and was often severely beaten by his father. At the age of eight, he attempted to kill his father with a gun, which jammed. He ran away from home shortly after, fleeing to Los Angeles and then Chicago, where he lived roughly and associated with gangsters, doing odd jobs for them to make money. At the age of 11, after being wounded in a gunfight between some gangsters and hospitalized, he was returned home to his mother, who had recently divorced. During the years of the Depression, he dropped out of school and worked at various jobs until he joined the Merchant Marine, before joining the United States Navy in 1942 for World War II. He served as a Seabee in a naval construction battalion. He received severe facial injuries during a bet in which he was attempting to lift a 200-pound (91 kg) weight and had to undergo extensive plastic surgery to reconstruct his forehead, nose, and jaw. Before this, Fleming had always thought himself "ugly" and considered the incident a "wonderful balance of values". After his facial reconstruction, he returned to Paramount Studios, where he had been working as a construction worker, grip, and carpenter. He made a bet with an actor, he could do a better audition. He lost the bet and it cost him $100 and "I lost a lot of pride too, which hurt but the $100 hurt worse." So upon deciding acting cost him $100, acting would get it back, he entered acting classes at the studio in the evenings. He appeared on stage in Chicago and in a number of successful Broadway plays, including the musical Plain and Fancy. He began acting in television shows about the same time. Fleming then moved to Hollywood and starred in several low-budget films, including Fright, Curse of the Undead, and the cult classic Queen of Outer Space, with co-star Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Rawhide TV series
In 1958, the 6-foot, 3-1⁄2-inch (192 cm) (half an inch shorter than his co-star Clint Eastwood) Fleming landed the starring role as trail boss Gil Favor in Rawhide. Set in the 1860s, Rawhide portrayed the challenges faced by the men of the cattle drive from San Antonio, Texas, to Sedalia, Missouri. Producer Charles Marquis Warren called on the diary written in 1866 by trail boss George C. Duffield to shape the character of Favor: a savvy, strong, and fair leader who persevered and got the job done. The top-rated Western, with co-stars Clint Eastwood, Sheb Wooley, and Paul Brinegar, ran from 1959 to 1966. Fleming and Eastwood more or less rotated in playing the lead from week-to-week in the episodes, but Fleming was always billed over Eastwood.
'Bonanza' TV Series
Eric Fleming guest starred as a Mormon rancher in the two part episode "The Pursued" of Bonanza which dealt with religious persecution and intolerance. The character he played is killed in the storyline. After filming but prior to these episodes appearing on the NBC TV network Eric Fleming died in Peru. He also appeared in the Bonanza episode "Peace Officer" in the title role.
After Fleming left Rawhide at the end of the 1964–65 season (the series would continue for 13 episodes before it was cancelled by CBS), he took part in a Doris Day vehicle The Glass Bottom Boat where he played a suave spy, and then was signed to star in High Jungle, an MGM adventure film shot in Peru. During the final stages of shooting, the dugout canoe that Fleming and costar Nico Minardos were in overturned in the Huallaga River. Minardos managed to swim to safety, but Fleming was swept away by the current and drowned on September 28, 1966. Fleming was 41 when he died.
He had planned to marry Lynne Garber and become a teacher when the film was completed. His will left money to his mother, his cousin, and a friend, but specifically excluded his father from any bequest. In his will, he donated his body to medical science, but it is unknown if his remains were sent to UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles, or if they were buried on the grounds of the University of Peru in Lima, Peru.
Stories spread about piranhas in the river, but according to Sherry Hensley's 2004 biography, sources told her that piranhas only thrive in the lower regions where the pools remain calm. According to the source, who grew up in the area, no piranhas are in the rapids where Fleming drowned.
- Greenland, David R. Rawhide: A history of television's longest cattle drive. Albany, GA: BearManor Media. pp. 18–19. ISBN 9781593936273.
- Greenland, David R. Rawhide: A history of television's longest cattle drive. Albany, GA: BearManor Media. p. 19. ISBN 9781593936273.
- When Western's Ruled, Eric Fleming- Rawhide Star, actor - Tragedy http://trivia.ellenthorp.com/eric-fleming-rawhide-star
- The Legend of Rawhide – The Katy Depot, Sedalia Missouri
- TV Actor Eric Fleming Is Drowned, St. Petersburg Times. October 1, 1966
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