Ken Kercheval Biography


Birthday: July 15, 1935 (Cancer)

Born In: Wolcottville, Indiana, United States

Ken Kercheval was an American actor who, during his lifetime, worked extensively in Broadway, television and films. His best-known work, though, is a television series, ‘Dallas’ that ran for fourteen seasons, with him being a part of each and every one of them. He even won the ‘Soap Opera Digest Awards’ in 1990 for best supporting actor for his acting in the series. His other work in his prolific television career were ‘Search for Tomorrow’, ‘The Secret Storm’ and ‘How to Survive a Marriage’. His film releases include ‘The Seven-Ups’ and ‘F.I.S.T’. He also participated in a number of game shows. Being a heavy smoker, he suffered from cancer and had to get a part of lungs removed in 1994. He died of pneumonia in his hometown, Clinton, Indiana.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 83


Spouse/Ex-: Ava Fox (m. 1986–1993), Cheryl Paris (m. 1994–2004)

father: Marine Kercheval

mother: Christine Rieber

siblings: Kate Kercheval

Born Country: United States

Actors American Men

Height: 5'10" (178 cm), 5'10" Males

Died on: April 21, 2019

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

U.S. State: Indiana

More Facts

education: Indiana University, University of the Pacific Neighborhood, Playhouse School of the Theatre

Childhood & Early Life
Ken Kercheval was born on July 15, 1935 as to Marine Kercheval, a doctor and Christine Reiber, a nurse. He was born in Wolcottville, Indiana and had a sister named Kate.
He was raised in Clinton and attended high school there. He then graduated from Chamberlain-Hunt Military Academy, Mississippi.
Between 1953 and 1955, he pursued drama and music at Indiana University and in 1956 joined the University of the Pacific in California. Later, he learnt acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, New York under the guidance of American actor and acting teacher, Sanford Meisner.
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Ken Kercheval began as a stage actor, working alongside Dustin Hoffman in ‘Dead End’ a 1959 production.
During the early phase in his career, when he started out working on stage, he did a variety of other work to sustain himself. These works include selling encyclopedia, photographing babies and contributing in the construction of sewer tunnels beneath Manhattan.
In 1961, he made his Broadway debut with a musical, ‘The Young Abe Lincoln’ followed by ‘Something About a Soldier’ in 1962. During this time, he also received recognition for playing a young college professor in Edward Albee's national touring production ‘Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’.
His television career began with an uncredited television series, ‘Naked City’ in 1962. Till 1966, he had featured in quite a few other TV series like ‘The Defenders’, ‘The Nurses’, ‘The Trials of O'Brien’ and ‘Hawk’.
In 1966, he appeared in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, a Broadway original musical. The year 1966 saw him working in other Broadway productions like ‘Happily Never After’, ‘The Apple Tree’ and ‘Cabaret’.
His journey with stage continued with the musical ‘Here's Where I Belong’ in 1968 and a comedy, ‘Father's Day’ in 1971.
He appeared as a TV series regular in the ‘The Secret Storm’ in 1968, ‘Search For Tomorrow’ in 1972 and ‘How to Survive a Marriage’ in 1974. In the first two, both Roy Winsor creations, he essayed the role of Archie Borman and Dr Nick Hunter respectively. In the third series created by Anne Howard Bailey, he played Larry Kirby.
Ken Kercheval’s film career started with the 1968 black comedy movie ‘Pretty Poison’. In the 1970s, he portrayed various characters in movies like, ‘Rabbit, Run’, ‘The Seven-Ups’, ‘Network’, and ‘F.I.S.T’. The last of these had Sylvester Stallone in the main lead.
In 1972, he appeared in ‘Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill’, an off-Broadway production.
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Between 1975 and 1985, he made numerous appearances in a number of television series including ‘The Adams Chronicles’, ‘Family’, ‘Kojak’, ‘CHiPs’ and ‘Starsky and Hutch’.
During his long career in television, he also acted in a number of television movies. In the 1970s, his television movies included the acclaimed ‘Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys’ and ‘Walking Through the Fire’.
In 1978, he bagged the biggest role of his career in television series, ‘Dallas’. In the series, which continued till 1991, he played the pivotal character of Cliff Barnes.
Ken Kercheval also appeared in a number of game shows as celebrity contestant in the 1980s like ‘The $10,000 Pyramid’ ‘Super Password’, ‘The $25,000 Pyramid’, ‘Blackout’ and ‘The $100,000 Pyramid’.
In 1985, he invested in Old Capital Popcorn Company. The business flourished in the initial years, however, things went bad later. In 1989, Edward Phillips Jr, a business partner who was forced to quit the business by Kercheval, crashed a truck into the Lorimar Studios, set the vehicle ablaze before finally committing suicide. Lorimar Studios was where the shooting of ‘Dallas’ was going on.
From 1986 onwards, he was seen in more television series like ‘Mike Hammer’, ‘Matlock’, ‘Highway to Heaven’, ‘L.A. Law’, ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ and ‘Diagnosis Murder’.
Television movies in which he acted in the 1980s and 1990s included ‘The Patricia Neal Story’, ‘The Demon Murder Case’, ‘Perry Mason: The Case of the Defiant Daughter’, ‘I Still Dream of Jeannie’, ‘Diagnosis Murder: Diagnosis of Murder’, ‘Woman on the Ledge’ and ‘A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Grimacing Governor’.
The decade of 1990 saw him performing in movies like, ‘California Casanova’ and ‘Beretta's Island’.
Between 2006 and 2011, he featured in the stage musical, ‘White Christmas’. The musical, in which he played the role of ‘The General’, toured around UK during the period.
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His last television series was again ‘Dallas’ which aired between 2012 and 2014 and was a revival of the original series. The series with a mix of old and new stars had him in a recurring role.
The last movie in his filmography, ‘Surviving in L.A.’ came in 2019 but before that he also had few other releases in the 2000s. These releases include ‘Blind Obsession’, ‘Corrado’ and ‘The Promise’.
Major Works
Ken Kercheval gained immense popularity for his portrayal of ‘Cliff Barnes’ in the hit US TV drama, ‘Dallas’. Though, he was initially selected for the role of Jock Ewing's illegitimate son Ray Krebbs, he finally ended up playing the role of JR Ewing’s (played by Larry Hagman) arch-rival. The show’s original run continued from 1978 to 1991 and Kercheval and Hagman were the only two cast members to appear throughout the 14 series. The duo returned in their respective roles for the 1996 ‘Dallas’ TV movie reunion and also when the drama was revived from 2012 to 2014. He also directed a couple of episodes for the 13th and the 14th season of the series.
Awards & Achievements
For his portrayal of the character ‘Cliff Barnes’ in ‘Dallas’, he was nominated several times in the ‘Soap Opera Digest Awards’. In 1990, he finally bagged the Outstanding Supporting Actor: Prime Time award.
In 2006, he also shared the Pop Culture Award by ‘TV Land Awards’ with few other stars of ‘Dallas’.
Family & Personal Life
Ken Kercheval married thrice but all his marriages ended in divorce. His first wife was Judith Peters Launt (1956-1967) while his second and third wife were Ava Ruth Fox (1986-1993) and actress Cheryl Paris (1994- 2004).
He was a lifelong smoker and admitted to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. Due to this, he was diagnosed with cancer in 1993. The next year, a part of his lungs was removed.
He also referred to himself as a "practicing alcoholic" for 20 years after which he finally pulled himself out of the habit.
He died at the age of 83 on 21st April, 2019 after suffering from pneumonia and is survived by his five children - Caleb, Liza, Aaron, Asa and Madison – and six grandchildren.

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