Tom Lester, fondly remembered by fans as Eb Dawson on TV's "Green Acres," died Monday in Nashville. According to a family-posted obituary, Lester, 81, died at home of Parkinson's disease complications.
He was reportedly with his fiancée Jackie Peters, who was also his long-term caregiver.
Lester played the affable yokel on "Green Acres" from 1965-1971, and on several episodes of "Petticoat Junction" (1966-1967) and "The Beverly Hillbillies" (1968). "Green Acres" was canceled in spite of enduring popularity when its network, CBS, decided to abandon its sitcoms with rural settings in order to attract more upscale advertisers.
He reprised his role for a 1990 TV movie that reunited the original cast.
Lester had been the final surviving regular from the series.
Born on September 23, 1938, in Laurel, Mississippi, Lester studied chemistry and biology, intending to become a doctor. When he decided to act, against his better judgment (and the unkind advice of friends), he wound up meeting Linda Kaye Henning, the daughter of Paul Henning, a powerful TV producer. Henning cast him as Eb, which was initially to have been a short stint, but Lester's character proved so charming (his character called the characters of series stars Eddie Arnold and Eva Gabor "Mom" and "Dad"), he wound up on almost every episode.
Lester's other work included a limited number of episodic TV appearances on such shows as "Love, American Style" (1974), "Marcus Welby M.D." (1974), "Little House on the Prairie" (1981), "Knight Rider" (1982) and the soap "Santa Barbara" (1987).
He also appeared in the campy made-for-TV flick "Charo and the Sergeant" (1976) and in the smash-hit children's movie "Benji" (1974).
A born-again Christian for over 70 years, he spent time traveling to speak about religion, and was a conservationist who spent many years on a farm in Mississippi before deciding that Nashville was where he'd rather stay.
Lester is survived by his fiancée, his brother, two great-nieces, one great-great niece and one great-great nephew.