In the ’80s, most people thought Westerns were relics of the past, but the 1989 miniseries Lonesome Dove proved them very wrong. The four-part show, adapted from the acclaimed 1985 novel by Larry McMurtry, reportedly drew over 30 million viewers per episode. A favorite of both critics and fans, the show was beloved for its epic narrative — set in the waning days of the Old West, it centered on the relationships between several retired Texas Rangers and their adventures driving a cattle herd from Texas to Montana — and its powerhouse cast. Headlined by Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones, the cast also included talents like Chris Cooper, Anjelica Huston, Frederic Forrest and Diane Lane.
In today’s cultural landscape, prestige TV dramas featuring A-list casts, high production values and serious screenplays are commonplace, but this wasn’t the case in 1989, which made Lonesome Dove stand out from the pack. Many studios initially turned down the idea of adapting McMurtry’s novel, but the series ultimately won multiple awards and helped to revive the Western genre and usher in the beginnings of the “peak TV” era. In the 30-plus years since the show first aired, some of the iconic cast members have sadly passed on, but here’s a look back at the surviving stars.
Robert Duvall as Captain Augustus “Gus” McCrae
Now 92, Robert Duvall has been a star for over 60 years. His feature film debut was portraying Boo Radley in the 1962 classic To Kill a Mockingbird. After other roles in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Duvall finally brought home the Oscar for Best Actor for his work in the 1983 drama Tender Mercies. He’ll forever be associated with his roles as the Corleone family’s consigliere, Tom Hagen, in The Godfather movies, and Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now. As Kilgore, he delivered one of the most iconic lines in movie history: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
Duvall has said his role as a former Texas Ranger in Lonesome Dove was his favorite and called it the “Godfather of Westerns.” The impact of his performance was so great that in 2011 he was made an honorary ranger. Duvall has continued to act, and most recently appeared in the mystery movie The Pale Blue Eye in 2022.
In addition to his impressive track record as an actor, Duvall is also an accomplished director and writer. He received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of evangelical preacher Euliss “Sonny” Dewey in The Apostle, which he wrote and directed. His other credits as director and writer include Angelo My Love, Assassination Tango and Wild Horses. When he’s not busy bringing gravitas to the screen, Duvall enjoys dancing the tango — perhaps that’s how he’s stayed in such strong form after all these years!
Ricky Schroder as Newt Dobbs
Ricky Schroder got his start as an adorable child star. He first won notice at age 9, when he played Jon Voight’s son in The Champ. Then came the hit sitcom Silver Spoons, where he charmed viewers as the precocious Ricky Stratton from 1982 to 1986.
Now 53, the actor is no longer Ricky, having dropped the “y” from his child actor title. In Lonesome Dove, Schroder proved his talents as a more mature actor, in the serious role of Newt Dobbs, a 17 year-old orphan raised by Gus and Call. His character knows his mother was a prostitute but no idea who his real father might be. Though his cowboy skills are awkward at best, he does develop into a reliable cowboy and is eventually given leadership of the ranch in Call’s absence even though he’s still a teenager. In the preface to the novel, McMurtry refers to Newt as “The Lonesome Dove of the title.”
After Lonesome Dove, Schroder joined the casts of intense shows like NYPD Blue and 24. He’s also directed three films and acted in the TV movies.
Tommy Lee Jones as Captain Woodrow F. Call
Tommy Lee Jones’ character is a tireless worker who believes in discipline, duty and honor. While McCrae is upbeat, Call is stoic. The 77-year-old actor started out on Broadway in 1969 and made his film debut with a small part in the 1970 melodrama Love Story. In the ’70s, Jones’ profile rose as he played everything from an escaped convict (Jackson County Jail) to a police detective (Eyes of Laura Mars). He won an Emmy for Best Actor for his performance as murderer Gary Gilmore in The Executioner’s Song and was also nominated for his Lonesome Dove role. Jones kept busy in the ’90s, he receiving an Oscar for his performance in The Fugitive. While he’s played many a somber role, he’s also well-known for starring alongside Will Smith in Men In Black and its sequel.
While it’s hard to picture anyone else playing Woodrow F. Call, the role was originally offered to Charles Bronson, James Garner, Jon Voight and Robert Duvall (who turned it down so he could play Captain Augustus McCrae).
Diane Lane as Lorena Wood
In Lonesome Dove, Diane Lane played the beautiful Lorena, an Alabama woman coerced into prostitution by a former lover. Lorena is strong-willed, and often intimidates the cowboys who seek her affection.
Lane started out as a child actor, making her film debut at age 14 in the 1979 movie A Little Romance, alongside none other than Laurence Olivier. In the ’80s, she acted in movies like The Outsiders, Rumble Fish and Streets of Fire. Now 58, she’s set to star as midcentury socialite Slim Keith in the anthology series Feud, and she’s had notable roles in blockbusters like Man of Steel. Her performance in the steamy 2002 thriller Unfaithful earned her an Oscar nomination and Under the Tuscan Sun, released the next year, remains an escapist fan favorite.
Lane is the ultimate example of a child star who’s aged with grace and transitioned beautifully to mature roles, and after more than four decades in the industry, she’s still in high demand.
Anjelica Huston as Clara Forsythe Allen
As Clara, Gus’ former love, Anjelica Huston gave a powerful performance as a woman who was grieving for her sons while treasuring her daughters.
Huston has a solid Hollywood pedigree. She’s the daughter of director John Huston and granddaughter of actor Walter Huston. She started out as a model in the swinging ’60s, and became a ’70s “it girl” when she dated Jack Nicholson.
Huston’s breakthrough as an actress came when she played a mobster’s moll in her father’s 1985 film Prizzi’s Honor, which also starred Nicholson. Huston won an Oscar for the role. After that, she acted in acclaimed dramas like The Dead and Crimes and Misdemeanors and dark yet family-friendly films like The Witches and The Addams Family. Huston’s gothic looks made her the ideal Morticia Addams. In 1996, she made her directorial debut with an adaptation of the novel Bastard Out of Carolina.
More recently, Huston has appeared in a number of quirky films from director Wes Anderson, including The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, Isle of Dogs and The French Dispatch. She’s also been in crowd-pleasing action movies like the third installment in the John Wick series. Now 72, Huston has written two memoirs detailing her singular life as a model, actress and icon.
Click through for more classic ’80s TV shows!