Obituary: Ken Kercheval, US actor best-known as JR Ewing’s rival in Dallas

Ken Kercheval in 1986 (Picture: AP)
Ken Kercheval in 1986 (Picture: AP)
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Ken Kercheval, actor. Born: 15 July 1935 in Wolcottville, Indiana, United States. Died: 
21 April 2019, Clinton, Indiana, US, aged 83

Ken Kercheval, who played perennial punching bag Cliff Barnes to Larry Hagman’s scheming oil baron JR Ewing on the hit US TV series Dallas, has died. He was 83.

Kercheval died on Easter Sunday in the city of Clinton in his native Indiana, said Jeff Fisher, his agent. His family did not share the cause of death.

He was in Dallas for its full run, from 1978 to 1991, and returned as oilman Cliff opposite Hagman for a revival of the prime-time drama that aired from 2012-14.

He expressed fondness for his beleaguered character, also part of two TV Nineties movies, in a 2012 interview with a fan website, The Dallas Decoder.

Cliff was a nice guy, but with brother-in-law JR’s constant battering he had to defend himself, Kercheval said. “If I did something that wasn’t quite right, it’s because I had to,” he added.

Kercheval was born in Wolcottville, Indiana, and raised in Clinton by his father, a doctor, and his mother, a nurse. He studied at the University of Indiana and the University of the Pacific, according to profiles.

His early roles were on stage, with Broadway performances in musicals including The Young Abe Lincoln in 1961 and The Apple Tree and Cabaret in the late 1960s. Kercheval’s big-screen credits included Pretty Poison (1968), The Seven-Ups in 1973 and Network in 1976.

He made frequent guest appearances on TV series, stretching from Naked City and The Defenders in the 1960s to ER and Diagnosis Murder in the 1990s and 2000s. His last online credit is for the film Surviving in LA (2019). In 2007 he appeared at Edinburgh Playhouse in a touring version of White Christmas.

In a first-person piece for People magazine in 1994, Kercheval detailed his arduous treatment for lung cancer and advocated that others quit smoking, as he was “99 percent” successful in doing.

Kercheval’s survivors include three children, Caleb, Liza and Madison, his agent said.

LYNN ELBER