- Quit school at 15 during the Depression to work as a stable boy on a farm; he left in 1937 to take a job as a horse-riding extra in The Adventures of Marco Polo.
- Competed on the rodeo circuit from 1938 to 1950.
- Was the riding double for Guy Madison in the 1950s TV Western Wild Bill Hickok and went on to play Hickok in 1981's The Legend of the Lone Ranger.
- Drove a chariot in 1956's The Ten Commandments and 1959's Ben-Hur.
- Was made an honorary Texas Ranger in 1961.
- Co-founded the Stuntmen's Association in 1961, a group formed to safeguard the rights and working conditions of stuntpeople, and has an award named after him.
- In 1997, was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
- At the time of his Best Actor nomination for his performance in 1999's The Straight Story, he was 79 and the oldest actor ever up for that award.
- Was known to have a dislike for foul language and was proud of the fact that in more than 60 film roles he never cursed.
- 2000, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama: Nominee
- 2000, Independent Spirit Awards — Best Male Lead: Winner
- 1986, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television: Nominee
- 1983, Genie Awards — Best Performance by a Foreign Actor: Winner
- 1984, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama: Nominee
- 1978, Oscar — Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Nominee
- 1999, Oscar — Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Nominee
- Melissa Farnsworth — Daughter
- Jewely Van Valin — Fiancée
- Richard 'Diamond' Farnsworth — Son
- Margaret Hill — Wife (deceased)
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