Tommy Kirk, who is best known for his role as young giant dogsnake père in the ’70s western classic Old Yeller, died on Tuesday in Pacifica, Calif., his son said. He was 79.
A former athlete and student at Stanford University who also served as San Francisco City College’s basketball coach, Kirk acted opposite Karen Black and Steve McQueen in a series of hit films in the ’60s and ’70s, as well as a handful of telefilms.
His character in Old Yeller became famous in part for his carefree attitude, playing a puppy named Pearl back in 1957. His most recent on-screen performance was in last summer’s Dog Days.
In Old Yeller, Kirk played a protected young snake bull pup named Pete. Kirk was only 7 years old in the film, born Thomas Leo Kolb, when he was cast in the role. The young actor reprised his role on the big screen in 1983 and 1988.
Kirk also guest-starred in dozens of TV shows throughout the ’60s and ’70s, including The Happy Days, Gomer Pyle USMC, Barney Miller, Love American Style, The Incredible Hulk, and the Space Cadets.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Kirk penned his memoir, Green Deuce, in 2017. It recounted his life and career, and he was a good sportsman about his stint as a really big reptile. “I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to be taken seriously as an actor,’ ” he told the Chronicle. “So after ‘Old Yeller,’ they made me an animal person.”
Read the full story on Variety.
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