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Richard Farnsworth was a stuntman for 30 years before he started his career as an actor. He is best known for his performance in The Grey Fox (1982).
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Farnsworth made several attempts to branch out as a series regular on network television. He made two unsuccessful pilot Westerns in 1981 and the short-lived Boys of Twilight, co-starring Wilford Brimley, in 1992. He found a measure of success with TV movies, including Travis McGee (1983); Wild Horses (1985); Chase (1985),
for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe; the miniseries The Fire Next Time (1993); and a leading turn in Best Friends for Life (1998).
After a number of relatively minor roles in largely disappointing films, including Highway to Hell (1992), Lassie (1994) and The Getaway (1994), starring Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, Farnsworth emerged with his most acclaimed performance yet, in The Straight Story (1999), directed by David Lynch and co-starring Sissy Spacek. For his portrayal of Alvin Straight—an Iowa man who in 1994 drove a lawnmower several hundred miles to visit his estranged, ailing brother—the 79-year-old Farnsworth earned a Golden Globe nod as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, becoming the oldest actor ever to be nominated in that category.
Farnsworth's wife, Margaret, died in 1985 after 38 years of marriage. The couple had a son, Hill, who worked as a top stunt performer in Hollywood, and a daughter, Melissa. He lived on a ranch in Lincoln, New Mexico. On October 6, 2000, Farnsworth took his own life after a long struggle with terminal cancer. He was 80 years old.
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