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Lee Majors: 15 of His Most Iconic Roles, With and Without Bionics

He starred in 'The Big Valley' to 'The Six Million Dollar Man' to 'The Fall Guy', and that's just the start!

When it comes to classic TV icons, it’s tough to think of a bigger one than Lee Majors. He starred in three series of over a hundred episodes each in the 1960s (The Big Valley), 1970s (The Six Million Dollar Man) and 1980s (The Fall Guy), with a ton of work before and after each of them, his performances touching a couple of generations and continuing to do so.

Born Harvey Lee Yeary on April 23, 1939 in Wyandotte, Michigan, he was orphaned at the age of 1 and was adopted a year later by uncle and aunt Harvey and Mildred Yeary. As he is quoted as saying at leemajors.co.uk, “My father died in a steel mill accident just before I was born, and later my mother was hit by a drunk driver as she was standing on a corner waiting to go to her job as a nurse.”

He attended Middlesboro High School, proving himself in both football and track. A football scholarship brought him to Indiana University, though two years in he transferred over to Eastern Kentucky University where he played football as well. Unfortunately, he suffered a back injury that left him paralyzed for two weeks and was the turning point where he realized professional sports would not be in his future.

Lee Majors
Lee Majors at home on his ranch in Calabasas, California, circa 1965Getty

Pursuing acting, he scored a role in Joan Crawford‘s 1964 film Strait-Jacket, and the following year began appearing on such TV shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Gunsmoke. Then beat out 400 other actors, Burt Reynolds among them, to win the part of Heath Barkley on The Big Valley and, as an actor, had never had to look back.

Personally speaking, in 1961 he married Kathy Robinson, who gave birth to their son, Lee Jr., in 1962. That year the new family moved to California so Lee could pursue acting, but the marriage quickly fell apart. “Our life there was really rough on Kathy,” he told TV Mirror magazine. “We knew no one and money was very tight..”

Farrah Fawcett and Lee Majors
Farrah Fawcett and Lee Majors on The Six Million Dollar Man

The pressures continued to build, resulting in them getting a divorce in 1964. Majors did find love again with aspiring actress Farrah Fawcett, who he would marry on July 28, 1973. Their individual careers exploded in that decade, her as a part of Charlie’s Angels and him from The Six Million Dollar Man. “I ended up seeing her two weeks in one year,” says Majors. “She was off doing films and stuff, and doing her series, and I was doing mine. That’s mainly the reason we got divorced; we never saw each other. We stayed great friends, but we just had our own careers going and didn’t have time for each other.”

Lee Majors and wife
Actors Lee Majors (L) and Faith Majors (R) attend the Open Hearts Foundation 10th Anniversary Gala at SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills on February 15, 2020 in Los Angeles Getty

While his roles would ebb and flow, he continued to find romance. In 1988 he married Playboy Playmate Karen Velez, with whom he had three children: daughter Nikki Loren and twin sons Dane Luke and Trey Kulley. The couple divorced in 1994. Then, on November 1, 2002, he married actress and model Faith Cross, to whom he’s still wed and remains very much in love with.

In a career that is currently celebrating its 60th anniversary, Lee Majors has taken on many roles, some more impactful than others. What follows is a look at 15 of them.

1. The Big Valley (1965 to 1969 TV Series)

Cast of The Big Valley
Lee Majors and the Cast of The Big Valley©ABC/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

The setting is the Barkley Ranch in Stockton, California in the mid-to-late 1800s. Barbara Stanwyck portrays matriarch Victoria Barkley, with Linda Evans as her daughter, Audra; Richard Long (from Nanny and the Professor) as Jarrod Thomas, her oldest son; Peter Breck as the younger Nick Jonathan and Lee Majors as illegitimate son Heath. Grateful for the role and the opportunity the series provided, he was nonetheless frustrated when the show unexpectedly got renewed for a final season, which forced him to turn down what would become the Jon Voight role in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy.

As he noted to the media, “Acting is a tough business and the percentage of people who make it is very low — it’s about one percent. I’ve had disappointments and heartbreaks and setbacks and roles I didn’t get, but something always came along that made me better or was even a better role.”

2. The Ballad of Andy Crocker (1969 TV Movie)

Lee Majors
Andy Crocker (Lee Majors) sits at a table with Karen (Jill Haworth) in a scene from the movie Ballad Of Andy Crocker, which was released on November 18, 1969Getty

A perfect example of that was the 1969 TV movie The Ballad of Andy Crocker, Majors playing a Vietnam veteran trying to readjust to civilian life. “That was important,” explains Michael McKenna, author of The ABC Movie of the Week: Big Movies for the Small Screen, “because the networks weren’t really doing much in the way of these kind of movies in 1969 when the Vietnam War was such a controversial issue. What was sensitively handled was the culture clash of the Vietnam vet with a crew cut running into hippies on Sunset Blvd.. TV doesn’t always get the credit for dealing with issues, and oftentimes before feature films were dealing with Vietnam.”

3. The Virginian (1970 to 1971 Season of TV Series)

Lee Majors in The Virginian
American actor Lew Ayres guest stars with series regular Lee Majors (right) in the NBC television show The Men From Shiloh, the final season of The Virginian, 1970Getty

The Virginian, which aired from 1962 to 1971, was a fairly unique Western in that each episode ran 90 minutes and the leading characters would frequently change. On top of that, the individual segments were shot like a movie in Technicolor and on 35mm film. Set in Wyoming in the days prior to it becoming a state, in the final season the show changed its name to The Men from Shiloh, with Majors being one of four alternating leads. The series also changed its look and filming style, doing its best to reflect the Spaghetti Westerns that had turned Clint Eastwood and his Man with No Name into a sensation.

4. Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law (1971 to 1974 TV Series)

Lee Majors and Arthur Hill
Lee Majors and Arthur Hill in Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law©NBCUniversal/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

In Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, Arthur Hill plays the title character, a former prosecutor who becomes a compassionate defense attorney. Aiding him were characters played by Reni Santoni, David Soul and Lee Majors. Upon leaving The Big Valley, Majors signed a long-term contract with Universal Television, which would place him in different projects — including this one.

5. The Six Million Dollar Man (1973 to 1978 TV Movies and Series)

Six Million Dollar Man
Lee Majors and Big Foot in The Six Million Dollar Man©NBCUniversal/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

One of those, of course, was the 1973 TV movie The Six Million Dollar Man, based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin. In it, Majors portrays former astronaut Steve Austin, who is nearly killed while testing a new experimental spacecraft. His life is saved by replacing his lost arm, crushed legs and left eye with bionic parts that makes him somewhat superhuman. After struggling with what he has become, he begins to agree to carry out missions for the government, which had paid the $6 million price tag to make him whole again. So successful was the film that it spawned two sequels: Wine, Women and War and The Solid Gold Kidnapping, which in turn led to the weekly series that would run from 1974 to 1978 and prove to be a pop culture sensation.

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“At first I was really hesitant,” Majors points out, “because when they sent me the script it was called Cyborg, and it was about a guy who jumped tall buildings and all this. Not so many years earlier one of the hottest shows on television was Batman, and it was so campy, which made it fun, but I didn’t want this to be a campy show. They promised me that it wouldn’t. We did the first pilot and it was very good; I really enjoyed that. And then we did a second movie, and [writer/producer] Glen Larson was involved. Then it turned a little bit toward James Bond and I wasn’t quite comfortable with that persona for Steve Austin.”

Richard Anderson and Lee Majors
Richard Anderson and Lee Majors in The Six Million Dollar Man©NBCUniversal/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

Despite his discomfort with the latter two TV movies, he’s glad they did them because they provided multiple opportunities to work the kinks out of the concept. Then, of course, after the airing of the final film, ABC decided to go weekly with it and Majors pleaded with everyone involved to make the character “more human and honest and play down the bionics of doing a bionic thing every five minutes,” he says. “Only use them when it’s important. Also, no blood; we don’t kill people. I wanted the show to be for kids, too. A family show, and it turned out that way to a large degree.”

6. Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident (1976 TV Movie)

Lee Majors
Lee Majors in Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident, 1976©NBCUniversal

Lee Majors apparently enjoyed playing pilots of different kinds, and continued to do so with Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident. This biopic looks at what happened to the real Powers, an American pilot flying a CIA Lockhead U-2 spy plane that was shot down while carrying out a reconnaissance mission in Soviet Union air space, resulting in the “U-2 Incident” in 1960. Shot down from the sky, Powers was taken prisoner in Moscow, the Russians also having captured the U-2 — and everything classified about it. Found guilty of espionage, Powers eventually became part of a prisoner exchange in 1962. Ironically, he would die in a helicopter crash on August 1, 1977 at the age of 47.

7. The Norseman (1978 Film)

Lee Majors
Cornell Wilde and Lee Majors in 1978’s The Norseman©AIP/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

Majors plays Thorvald, an 11th century Viking prince who, to find his missing father, sails to North America, where the man had previously been captured by Native Americans. Paid $500,000 and 10% of the profits, of the project he would recall, “I had a little time off and they said, ‘It shoots in Florida, on the coast there, out of Tampa,’ and they had a bunch of Tampa Bay Buccaneers that were gonna play Vikings, so … I don’t know, I thought it would be fun, so I did it. There’s no character to develop here and hardly any dialogue. This is a formula film.”

8. High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane (1980 TV Movie)

Lee Majors and David Carradine
Lee Majors and David Carradine in 1980’s High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane©CBS/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

TV movie sequel to the 1952 Gary Cooper Western classic High Noon. In it, Will Kane (Lee Majors) returns to the town of Hadleyville, which he sees has come under the corrupt control of a ruthless marshal (Pernell Roberts). Despite having left the town in disgust at the end of the first film, he pushes back to take the marshal down and restore law and order to Hadleyville. David Carradine also stars.

9. The Last Chase (1981 Film)

Lee Majors in The Last Chase
Lee Majors in 1981’s The Last Chase©Crown International Pictures/IMDb

Lee Majors teams up with Burgess Meredith (Penguin from the Adam West Batman show and Mickey from the Rocky films) in this sci-fi dystopian film set in the future where a former racing driver (Majors) puts together his old Porsche and drives to California. The problem is that motor vehicles of all kinds have been ruled illegal by the government. Needless to say, car chases are front and center.

10. The Fall Guy (1981 to 1986 TV Series)

The Fall Guy
Lee Majors and the cast of The Fall Guy, 1981-1986©20th Television/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

In The Fall Guy, Majors plays Hollywood stuntman Colt Seavers, who also moonlights as a bounty hunter, using his skills (you’d be surprised how much being able to drive cars and trucks quickly come in handy) while hunting down criminals. Joining him is cousin Howie Munson (Douglas Barr) and stuntwoman Jody Banks (Heather Thomas). As the actor told Den of Geek, “I wanted to so something to get away from Six Mil, and a producer friend of mine asked me to do The Fall Guy. Even though I did it for five years, The Fall Guy still didn’t take away the impact of Steve Austin. To this day, Six Mil was the hottest series I did, even though, for me, it’s Big Valley I liked very much.”

11. Starflight: The Plane That Couldn’t Land (1983)

Lee Majors and Lauren Hutton
Supermodel Lauren Hutton and Actor Lee Majors joke around at a press conference announcing the release of Starflight: The Plane That Couldn’t Land a TV movie. March 20, 1983 Getty

Commercial aircraft Starflight One, which can transport passengers around the world in a matter of hours, embarks on its maiden voyage but is forced out of the atmosphere and can’t return. Lee Majors’ Captain Cody Briggs must keep passengers and crew (including Barney Miller‘s Hal Linden as the ship’s designer, Josh Gilliam) calm — and alive — while NASA attempts a rescue mission.

12. Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman Reunions (1987, 1989, 1994 TV Movies)

Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner
Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner in 1989’s Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman©NBCUniversal/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

Back on The Six Million Dollar Man there reached a point where Majors was frustrated that Steve Austin hadn’t been given a romantic interest. In response, writer/producer Kenneth Johnson created tennis pro Jamie Sommers (Lindsay Wagner), the woman Steve Austin once loved. Their romance is rekindled, but Jamie is nearly killed in a parachuting accident. Steve pleads with his boss (and, by then, friend), Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson), to save Jamie by giving her bionic parts. He does so reluctantly, and she survives. The bionic lovers are thrilled, but then her body rejects the bionics and she dies.

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It was a devastating turn of events for the audience and for Steve. In reality, though, Jaime lived; they’ve secretly managed to save her life so that she can have her own spin-off show, The Bionic Woman. Good news, right? Unfortunately, most of her memory has been lost and she has no recollections of Steve, so they’re starting all over again and it’s a long road. Jump ahead in time, and the characters were reunited in a trio of TV movies.

Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner
Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner attend the third day of Roma Fiction Fest 2008 on July 9, 2008 in Rome, ItalyFranco S. Origlia/WireImage

The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, which aired, in 1987, has Steve and Jamie coming out of retirement to confront Fortress, a paramilitary organization. Two years later, it was Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, in which Steve and Jamie are after an unknown bionic person (Sandra Bullock in her first film role), who creates a diplomatic crisis and threatens world peace. Then, finally, in 1994 there was Bionic Ever After?, the premise of which has the bionic couple planning for their wedding, all threatened by Steve getting caught in a hostage situation and Jamie’s bionic systems starting to fail.

13. Too Much Sun (2000 TV Series)

The British series Too Much Sun
Lee Majors in the British series Too Much Sun©British Broadcasting Company

There isn’t a lot known about the British-produced series, but here’s what leemajors.co.uk says: “Aristocratic, English actor Julian Edgbaston Bowles ( Alex Jennings), and earthy, left-wing English writer, Nigel Conway (Mark Addy), seek fame and fortune that has eluded them in Britain, by moving to Hollywood. But things aren’t any better there. Their serious lack of talent prevails, and instead of working, they just hang around the guest house, which they rent off aging, ‘TV Cowboy’ Scott Reed (Lee Majors) and his beautiful but dumb trophy wife, Kimberley (Julienne Davis). Bitter at everyone else’s success, they slob out in the hot tub, spitting bile and pouring scorn on the rich and famous. It’s doesn’t help that another ex-Brit, the slow-witted and chauvenistic Dave Stamp (Nigel Lindsay), has a local plumbing job which has him mixing with the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Jack Nicholson!” The show only lasted six episodes.

14. Dallas (2013 TV Series, Recurring Role)

Guest starring on Dallas
Lee Majors and Linda Gray in the revival of Dallas©WBDiscovery/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

The TNT network aired a revival of the classic prime time soap opera Dallas from 2012 to 2014, which brought back many original cast members and added new ones. In the second season Lee Majors appeared in two episodes as Ken Richards, an old admirer of Linda Gray’s Sue Ellen.

15. Ash vs. Evil Dead (2016 to 2018 TV Series, Recurring Role)

Ash vs. Evil Dead
Lee Majors and William Campbell in Ash vs. Evil Dead©Starz/courtesy MovieStillsDB.com

Bruce Campbell reprises his role of Ash Williams of the Evil Dead films, a new war with the creatures needing to be waged some 30 years after the last film. The series is very tongue-in-cheek, but Campbell was completely serious about the man he wanted to play Ash’s father, Brock Williams: Lee Majors, who recurred in Seasons 2 and 3.

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Says Campbell, “He was the first choice to play Ash’s completely irresponsible and inappropriate father. Now this is not normally his bag these days; he does Hallmark movies and things like that. But God bless him, he’s got a great, twisted sense of humor and we had a great time talking about The Six Million Dollar Man. See, that’s why I’m in this dumb business, because occasionally you get to run into people you admire like Lee. He’s an iconic television actor. He’s been in three shows over a hundred episodes each. You stick around long enough, you get to work with really cool people.”

And they don’t come much cooler than Lee Majors.

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