Fast Facts

  • First acted as a teen in school and church plays.
  • Enlisted in the Marines in 1946 and played in the Marine Corps Band.
  • Won a Best Actor Drama Desk award in 1955 as the lead in an off-Broadway production of Macbeth.
  • Rose to fame as eldest son Adam Cartwright on the long-running TV western Bonanza. Was unhappy with his character's development and left the show after the sixth season.
  • Attended the historic 1965 Voting Rights March in Selma, AL, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Returned to episodic TV in 1979 playing the title character in Trapper John, M.D., taking over a role made famous by Wayne Rogers on the show M*A*S*H. 
  • Was the host and narrator of FBI: The Untold Stories.
  • Died after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.


  • 1981, Emmy — Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Nominee


  • P.E. Roberts — Father
  • Betty Roberts — Mother
  • Kara Knack — Ex-wife
  • Judith Anna LeBreque — Ex-wife
  • Eleanor Criswell — Wife
  • Jonathan Christopher Roberts — Son
  • Vera Mowry — Ex-wife


  • Attended Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA; attended University of Maryland, College Park, MD

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  • Birth Name: Pernell Elvin Roberts
  • Birth Place: Waycross, GA
  • Birthday: May 18, 1928, Taurus
  • Died: January 24, 2010
  • Profession: Actor