Fess Parker, 85, who launched a nationwide craze of coonskin caps and toy rifles in the mid-1950s with his TV portrayal of frontiersman Davy Crockett and later starred as Daniel Boone in another TV buckskin drama, died on Thursday at his home near Santa Barbara, Calif., where he had been a successful winemaker and real estate developer.
Parker had acted in a few westerns and TV shows when Walt Disney put the 6-foot-6 Texan in the title role of Davy Crockett for a series of three one-hour episodes that appeared in late 1954 and early 1955 on ABC's "Disneyland" program. Parker and his sidekick, played by Buddy Ebsen, rafted down rivers, foraged in the woods, battled Indians and ended up in a fateful encounter at the Alamo.
The programs were an instant hit, prompting millions of children to buy coonskin caps, buckskin outfits, moccasins, guitars, lunch pails and "Old Betsy" rifles. At the peak of the craze, the price of raccoon fur shot from 25 cents a pound to $8.
On tour, Parker was besieged by thousands of fans clamoring to get a glimpse of the rangy, rough-hewn star. "I will immodestly tell you," Parker told the Los Angeles Times in 2002, "it was bigger than anything, ever, including the Beatles and Elvis."
The show's theme song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," spent three months as the country's No. 1 pop hit. Seemingly every kid in America knew its opening verse: Born on a mountain top in Tennessee/ The greenest state in the land of the free/ Raised in the woods so's he knew ev'ry tree/ Kilt him a b'ar when he was only three/ Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier.
The show's runaway success took everyone by surprise, including Disney. WASHINGTON POST