He was 85 and he lived and loved to the end
. He is rightly remembered as the man who played both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone; making coonskin caps a staple among a generation of American boys. That is, I suppose, all well and good--but it not what accounts for my fond recollection of him.
I think, rather, of his performance as the father in Old Yeller
--particularly in the closing scene where he speaks to his son about what it means to become a man. He talks of bearing hurts and holding on to things worth loving. And he balances his otherwise unflappable character with just the gentlest nod to tenderness--without permitting a wallowing in self-pity.
In 2004 (I think) we took our kids to a Disney themed Independence Day extravaganza at the Hollywood Bowl. We were surprised (because it was unannounced) when Fess Parker walked on stage for the finale to do a public reading of the Declaration of Independence. He did it with exactly the same kind of resolve and spirit that impressed me in Old Yeller
. In short, it was utterly believable and deeply moving because you could not help but know that--in both cases--these were words with which he agreed. They were words that resonated with and moved him. He spoke with the kind of passion that is only understandable when it is genuine. And one could tell that he felt obliged but happy to share those words because they were words he lived by and sought to make known to others in his own particular, and I'd say, splendid way.
genre in which Davy Crockett
and Daniel Boone
fall into does not seem to resonate with boys today, I'd suggest that this has less to do with today's boys than it does with the inability (or is it unwillingness?) of Hollywood to find men like Parker to portray them with the same passion (but with today's production values). When some genius in Hollywood finally figures this out, he'll make a fortune and boys will, once again, be scrambling for coonskin (faux, of course) caps.