Mouseketeer and 'The Rifleman' Child Star Johnny Crawford Dies at 75
Johnny Crawford, an original Mouseketeer and the child lead on the popular TV drama "The Rifleman," has died at 75.
The site JohnnyCrawfordLegacy.com announced, "It is with great sadness and heaviness of heart that the Johnny Crawford Legacy team announce the passing of Johnny Crawford. He passed away peacefully this evening, April 29, 2021 with Charlotte, his wife, by his side."
Born in L.A. on March 26, 1946, Crawford auditioned for TV's "The Mickey Mouse Club," becoming one of the original 24 Mouseketeers in 1955. One season later, ABC reduced the cast by half, cutting Crawford loose. It turned out to be a big break of sorts, even though he later said it left him feeling temporarily like "a has-been at 9."
In 1956, he starred in a Lux Video Theatre production of "Little Boy Lost," which demonstrated his acting ability, was seen in an uncredited part in the hit film "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," and appeared on several TV shows.
That same year, he guested on TV's "The Lone Ranger," his first of many western-themed roles, including "The Sheriff of Cochise" (1957), "Have Gun — Will Travel" (1957), "Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok" (1958), and "Wagon Train" (1958).
Crawford's most impactful performance came as Mark McCain on the western series "The Rifleman," a two-hander co-starring Chuck Connors that ran from 1958-1963. Crawford was so affecting in his role that the 13-year-old earned an Emmy nomination in 1959 — the same year his brother Bobby Crawford, then 14, was nominated for acting on "Laramie" and their dad Robert Sr. was nominated for editing.
The father-son bond exhibited by Connors and Crawford was often called one of the most convincing in TV history, and it survived the series — the two remained close until Connors' death in 1992.
Riding high on his "Rifleman" popularity, Crawford also enjoyed a short but sweet pop-music career. Unlike many other teen heartthrobs who turned to singing, Crawford managed four Top 40 hits: "Cindy's Birthday" (#8, 1962), "Rumors" (#12, 1962), "Your Nose Is Gonna Grow" (#14, 1962), and "Proud" (#29, 1963).
While serving in the U.S. Army during Vietnam, he contributed to training films, drawing on his film expertise from his years in Hollywood.
Crawford picked up his acting career after he was discharged.
Among his other noteworthy credits, he acted in the films "Village of the Giants" (1965), "The Restless Ones" (1965), the Oscar-nominated short "The Resurrection of Broncho Billy" (1970), Hugh Hefner's "The Naked Ape" (1973), and played Mark McCain one last time in the Kenny Rogers TV movie "The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw" (1991).
Crawford often appeared at western-themed nostalgia events, including to collect a 2005 Golden Boot Award. Pictured below, from left, are Crawford, host Haley Joel Osment, Eilene Janssen ("Escape from Red Rock"), Mickey Kuhn ("Gone with the Wind"), Gary Grey ("Return of the Bad Men"), Michael Chapin ("Song of Arizona") and (bottom) producer Patrick Curtis.
Crawford's final film was "The Marshal" in 2019, the same year it was announced he had Alzheimer's disease and a GoFundMe was launched to defray medical expenses.
He is survived by his wife Charlotte, his high-school sweetheart he reunited with and married in 1995; and his brother.