Tom Lester, the last surviving regular cast member of the TV classic Green Acres (1965-1971), died April 20 at 81 of Parkinson's disease complications.
ExtraTV reports Lester died at home in Nashville, his fiancée (and long-term caregiver) Jackie by his side.
Born September 23, 1938, in Laurel, Mississippi, Lester was heading toward a career as a doctor, earning degrees in biology and chemistry, when he took a right turn into acting.
Friends discouraged him, pointing out he was no matinee idol, but when he was cast in a play with Linda Kaye Henning (b. 1944), he was introduced to her powerful producer dad Paul Henning (1911-2005). Mr. Henning liked Lester's southern charm for the part of Eb, conceived as a one-off, and cast him on Green Acres. He worked so well he wound up on nearly every episode, plus played the same character on episodes of both Petticoat Junction (1966-1967) and The Beverly Hillbillies (1968).
He also reprised Eb on a 1990 Green Acres reunion telefilm.
When Green Acres was put out to pasture by CBS as part of its initiative to cancel rural-themed shows in order to make way for urban shows that would attract more lucrative and desirable advertising, Lester acted only sporadically.
He starred in the made-for-TV movie Charo and the Sergeant (1976), made episodic-TV appearances, and appeared in the smash feature Benji (1974) and the talking-pig movie Gordy (1994).
Lester, a born-again Christian since the 1940s, devoted much of his time to spreading the word of his faith, which kept him from accepting much acting work. He said in a 2007 interview:
“I couldn’t go into a church and share my faith and be in a movie downtown that people in the church wouldn’t see because of the subject matter or language.”
He also threw himself into conservation efforts in Mississippi, before relocating to Nashville when his health declined.
He is survived by his fiancée (he never married), a brother, and various family members.