Lee Majors

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Lee Majors (born on April 23, 1939), a popular American actor, starred in four long-running ABC TV series over four decades. He is best known for his roles as Barbara Stanwyck's son, Heath Barkley on The Big Valley (1965-1969), as Jess Brandon on Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law (1971-1974), as Col. Steve Austin on The Six Million Dollar Man (1974-1978), and as Colt Seavers on The Fall Guy (1981-1986). He also had a recurring role as Col. Seymour Kooze in Son of the Beach.

Biography

Early life

The son of Carl Yeary, who was killed in a work accident and Alice Yeary, who was killed in a car accident, Majors was born Harvey Lee Yeary in the Detroit suburb of Wyandotte, Michigan. In 1941, when Yeary was only two, he was adopted by his uncle and aunt, Harvey & Mildred Yeary, and moved with them to Middlesboro, Kentucky. He excelled in sports: while enrolled at Middlesboro High School, he participated in as many sports as he could, from track to football. He was also the big star of his class, though only earning average grades, and is the most-remembered athlete in his high school's history. Yeary graduated in 1957, and earned a scholarship to Indiana University, competing in more sports. Yeary left Indiana University in 1959 and transferred to Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky after he got into a fight at a fraternity house. That same year, he suffered a severe back injury prior to the beginning of the football season, which left him paralyzed for two weeks, and ended his football career. Yeary graduated from EKU in 1962 with a degree in both History and Physical Education, which gave him an option of becoming a teacher. Brother of the late Carl F. Yeary.

Prior to becoming an actor, Yeary adopted the name Lee Majors (see explanation in the trivia section).

Career/Education

After graduation, Majors received an offer from the St. Louis Cardinals football team for a tryout; however, he turned it down due to his need to immediately support his wife and son. The next year, 1964, he chose to move his family to Los Angeles, California, where he got a job at the Los Angeles Park and Recreation Department as the Recreation Director for North Hollywood Park. It was there that Majors met many familiar actors and industry professionals, including Dick Clayton, who was the late James Dean's agent. Clayton suggested that Lee attend his acting school. It took one year of studying in order for Clayton to help Majors start his career. Lee also studied at Estelle Harmon's acting school at MGM. At 25, Majors' first role was in Strait-Jacket (1964), starring Joan Crawford, and his career blossomed.

T.V. Roles

The Big Valley

That same year, Majors got his big break when he beat out over 400 actors, including Burt Reynolds, for the co-starring role of Heath Barkley in the new western series, The Big Valley, for ABC, which starred legendary 1930s screen actress, Barbara Stanwyck. Also starring on the show was another newcomer, Linda Evans, who played Majors' younger sister, Audra. There was an immediate connection between Majors, Stanwyck and Evans. Though Majors was very nervous at first, he was also very encouraged when Stanwyck took the time to be an informal acting coach. The show was an immediate hit, and Lee often worked longer hours on the set, studying and remembering each line. Despite the fact that he was not a horseman, he quickly learned to ride for the role. On three separate episodes, the character of Heath suffered whippings, which took an emotional toll on the actor. Majors went on to do some more films such as Will Penny (1968) with Charlton Heston. That same year, he was offered the chance to star in Midnight Cowboy (1969), but 'The Big Valley' was renewed for another season, and he was forced to decline the role which went to Jon Voight.

Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law

In 1970, Majors joined the cast of The Virginian for the last season, and also signed a long-term contract with Universal, where his next role was that of Arthur Hill's partner, Jess Brandon, on Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law, which garnered criticall acclaimed for three seasons on ABC.

The Six Million Dollar Man

Majors' co-starring role on the hit legal series Owen Marshall led him to the ultimate role of a lifetime, when in 1973, he starred as Col. Steve Austin, an ex-astronaut and test pilot with bionic limbs in the telemovie, The Six Million Dollar Man on ABC. The network decided to turn it into a weekly series early in 1974. This program made Majors a pop icon of the 1970s, and was seen in over 70 countries. Co-starring on the show was veteran character actor, Richard Anderson, who played the role of Col. Austin's boss, Oscar Goldman, and Alan Oppenheimer before Martin E. Brooks, as Col. Austin's doctor, Rudy Wells. The three actors created a unique chemistry on the set. Lee also invited his then wife, Farrah Fawcett, to guest-star in four episodes, and both Majors and Fawcett were on the cover of magazines everywhere. He also made his directorial debut in 1975, on an episode in which Fawcett appeared.

During the show's third season, the producers gave Majors a chance to have his character experience some love in his life, namely Jamie Sommers, played by actress Lindsay Wagner. Steve and Jamie's romance ignites before she is injured in a skydiving accident and is bionically rebuilt, comparable to him, except with an ear instead of an eye. At the end of the two-part episode, Jamie dies. ABC received dozens of letters from upset fans who wanted Wagner's character brought back from the dead. This was done, and eventually the character was the star of a spin-off show, The Bionic Woman, for NBC, therefore, the romance was over and Jamie lost her memory of Steve. Both shows remained in the Top 10 for the next three and a half seasons until The Six Million Dollar Man ended in early 1978, followed by The Bionic Woman, a couple of months later.

Anderson's history with Majors dates back to 1965 when he guest-starred on The Big Valley, where he was impressed by Majors. He later guest-starred with Majors' on The Fall Guy, in the episode Inside, Outside. In later years, long before he was concerned about the star's health, Anderson said of his old friend that he had at least one or even two more missions for Majors himself, and that was to star in three movies. From what he realized was that after a cult show that had been cancelled for 10 years, and with the revival movies being difficult to shot production, he had to get the project moving to make the first one. While the movies were shooting, he & Majors traveled to England for a charity event for blind children, that was headed by Princess Margaret. After studying a short scene, he along with his friends, except Majors, who all rode bikes together.

Film career

After his role as Steve Austin, Majors tried to start a feature-film career. He starred in five movies: The Norseman (1978), Steel (1979), Killer Fish (1979), Agency (1980) and The Last Chase (1981) and Out Cold (2001). None of these films performed well at the box office.

The Fall Guy

As he was about to abandon the film industry, Majors decided to go back to television for the fourth time, and starred in The Fall Guy, as Hollywood stuntman and part-time bounty hunter, Colt Seavers. His co-stars were Douglas Barr, Heather Thomas and Markie Post, who joined the cast in 1982. It was another bonafide hit. He even invited former series' co-stars Linda Evans, Peter Breck and Richard Anderson to guest-star in episodes. The show ended in 1986, after five seasons.

Movies and big transition in networks

After The Fall Guy he left ABC after 22 years of fruitful association. Between 1987 and 1994, he and Lindsay Wagner starred in three The Six Million Dollar Man/The Bionic Woman movies. Also in 1989, he moved to CBS, and the following year had a recurring role in Tour of Duty, and a regular role in 1992’s, short-lived series, Raven. He also made three TV pilots that have not been shown. He co-starred on Too Much Sun, but it was canceled after only six episodes.

Prolific character actor

Majors didn’t actually have that many television guest-starring roles until 1995, when he made an appearance on an episode of Lonesome Dove. The part led to other roles such as, Promised Land, Walker, Texas Ranger, V.I.P., The War Next Door, Jake 2.0, and he guest-starred on the popular sitcom Will and Grace, where he played Alan Arkin’s buddy Burt. He also had a recurring role on the short-lived series Son of the Beach, as Col. Seymour Kooze. He also appeared as himself on popular series such as Family Guy and Married to the Kellys.

Health problems

In the middle of 2003, Majors’ acting career was put on hold when he had double surgeries. He had a knee replacement, followed by a single heart bypass surgery, both of which were successful.

Personal life

Majors has been married four times, but his most famous marriage was to actress Farrah Fawcett, another 1970s pop icon. In 1976 Majors and Fawcett made TV history by being a husband and wife who simultaneously starred in separate top-rated shows (The Six Million Dollar Man (Majors) and Charlie's Angels (Fawcett)). They were married on July 28, 1973, and separated in 1979, but were not formally divorced until February 16, 1982. They broke up because Majors wanted his spouse to be home with him in the evenings, but she often needed to work on her show. The producers of her show made some concessions—for example she was allowed to leave the set to prepare dinner for Majors every evening—but eventually the demands of both their careers proved too onerous and they parted ways.

Majors has four children from two of his marriages. He has one son, actor Lee Majors II (born circa 1962, from his marriage to Kathy Robinson (1961 - 1964), who would go on to appear as an OSI agent in the three The Six Million Dollar Man/The Bionic Woman reunion movies with his father. His marriage to former Playboy Playmate, Karen Velez (1988 - 1994) produced one daughter, Nikki Majors, and twin sons, Dane Majors and Trey Majors. He is currently married to Faith Noelle, whom he wed on November 1, 2002.

Recent activities

Majors continues to play roles in made-for-TV movies, and makes cameo appearances on other shows and TV commercials, occasionally parodying his Steve Austin image.

Stars in a TV car commercial parodying the beginning of The Fall Guy ... always refusing the challenges presented in the original.

A cartoon image of Majors and later, a reference to the The Six Million Dollar Man, appears in the Running Mates episode of the television series Family Guy.

Trivia

  • His stagename Majors is in honor of his cousin Johnny Majors, runnerup for the 1956 Heisman Trophy, and a longtime football coach at the University of Pittsburgh (1970's, 1990's) and the University of Tennessee (1980's).
  • Lee Majors was adopted, as his parents had died when he was a toddler.
  • Lee Majors lent his voice to the part of Big Mitch Baker for Rockstar Games 2002 release Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
  • In the 2004 telefilm Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of 'Charlie's Angels', Ben Browder portrayed Majors and even got to recreate a famous fight scene from The Six Million Dollar Man between Austin and Bigfoot.
  • In the second season episode of Family Guy, Running Mates, when Lois scolds Peter for making a sexist comment, Peter quickly replies: "I didn't say that, Lee Majors did." The camera then shows Majors standing nearby; he shrugs and says "What? Women are things."
  • Majors starred in the 1986 movie A Smoky Mountain Christmas with Dolly Parton.

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