Denver Pyle

Active - 1947 - 1994  |   Born - May 11, 1920 in Bethune, Colorado, United States  |   Died - Dec 25, 1997 in Burbank, CA  |   Genres - Western, Action, Drama, Adventure

Share on


Had he been born a decade earlier, American actor Denver Pyle might well have joined the ranks of western-movie comedy sidekicks. Instead, Pyle, a Colorado farm boy, opted for studying law, working his way through school by playing drums in a dance band. Suddenly one day, Pyle became disenchanted with law and returned to his family farm, with nary an idea what he wanted to do with his life. Working in the oil fields of Oklahoma, he moved on to the shrimp boats of Galveston, Texas. A short stint as a page at NBC radio studios in 1940 didn't immediately lead to a showbiz career, as it has for so many others; instead, Pyle was inspired to perform by a mute oilfield coworker who was able to convey his thought with body language. Studying under such masters as Michael Chekhov and Maria Ouspenskaya, Pyle was able to achieve small movie and TV roles. He worked frequently on the western series of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry; not yet bearded and grizzled, Pyle was often seen as deputies, farmers and cattle rustlers. When his hair turned prematurely grey in his early '30s, Pyle graduated to banker, sheriff and judge roles in theatrical westerns -- though never of the comic variety. He also was a regular on two TV series, Code 3 (1956) and Tammy (1966). But his real breakthrough role didn't happen until 1967, when Pyle was cast as the taciturn sheriff in Bonnie and Clyde who is kidnapped and humilated by the robbers -- and then shows up at the end of the film to supervise the bloody machine-gun deaths of B&C. This virtually nonspeaking role won worldwide fame for Pyle, as well as verbal and physical assalts from the LA hippie community who regarded Bonnie and Clyde as folk heroes! From this point forward, Denver Pyle's billing, roles and salary were vastly improved -- and his screen image was softened and humanized by a full, bushy beard. Returning to TV, Pyle played the star's father on The Doris Day Show (1968-73); was Mad Jack, the costar/narrator of Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (1978-80); and best of all, spent six years (1979-85) as Uncle Jesse Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard. Looking stockier but otherwise unchanged, Denver Pyle was briefly seen in the 1994 hit Maverick, playing an elegantly dishonest cardshark who jauntily doffs his hat as he's dumped off of a riverboat. Pyle died of lung cancer at Burbank's Providence St. Joseph Medical Center at age 77.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography


  • Born in a town of only 40 people.
  • Served in the Navy during World War II and was wounded at Guadalcanal.
  • Played drums in a dance band in college.
  • Worked in Oklahoma oil fields and on Texas shrimping boats before becoming an actor.
  • Was working at an aircraft plant in L.A. when he landed his first acting role.