Western Actor Ben Cooper Dies @ 86

Ben Cooper, a sweet-faced western actor whose cap was feathered with a memorable appearance as a doomed outlaw named Turkey in the classic Johnny Guitar (1954), died Monday at 86.

Ben Cooper: September 30, 1933-February 24, 2020 (Image via video still)

THR reports his death followed "a long illness" that was reportedly dementia.

Born on September 30, 1933, in Hartford, Connecticut, Cooper took up acting as a child, appearing for over three years on Broadway in the show Life with Father in 1942, years into its run.

In an interview posted to YouTube in 2017, Cooper recalled getting the part because he was "the right size, I looked right, I was very polite and I knew the whole part."

Following success in over 3,000 radio serials, he made his TV debut in a May 1945 telecast called The Brownstone Theater; it was a medium to which he would return many times.

Next, he appeared in numerous Republic Pictures genre flicks following his uncredited debut in the MGM noir film Side Street (1950). His résumé included such titles as Thunderbirds (1952), The Last Command (1955) and Duel at Apache Wells (1956). He also popped up in the film adaptation of The Rose Tattoo (1955) and, much later, the comic western Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971).

He wasn't a cowboy in real life, but Cooper's quick-draw skills were legit, the product of a lot of practice and one reason he was cast in so many westerns. Having owned a horse since age 12, he was also adept at jumps and other stunts with the animals.

Cooper's daughter said "he dies for a living." (Image via Republic)

His western bona fides helped him land Johnny Guitar, in which he worked opposite Joan Crawford (circa 1904-1977). In that same, undated interview with Cheryl Rogers, he said:

Working with Joan Crawford was a great experience. She was a great gal ... Joan became a very dear friend.

Hired frequently on TV, he appeared on such series as The Millionaire (1959), Wagon Train (1959 & 1960), Zane Grey Theater (four appearances 1956-1960), Bonanza (1960 & 1961), The Twilight Zone (1961) and Perry Mason (five appearances 1961-1965).

Working steadily into the '80s, his last film was 1994's Lightning Jack, and his final performance in any medium was on Kung Fu: The Legend Continues in 1995.

In later life, he ran his own marketing business, caring for his ailing wife, who preceded him in death.

Cooper is survived by his granddaughter and grandson and their families, as well as his sister and his son-in-law.

Watch this charming interview with Cooper from just two years ago:

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