LOS ANGELES — Hugh O'Brian, who shot to fame as Sheriff Wyatt Earp in what was hailed as television's first adult Western, has died. He was 91.
A representative from HOBY, a philanthropic organization Mr. O'Brian founded, said he died at home Monday in Beverly Hills.
Until The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp debuted in September 1955, most TV Westerns — The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, the singing cowboys' series — were aimed at adolescent boys.
Wyatt Earp, on the other hand, was based on a real-life Western hero, and some of its stories were authentic. (The real Earp, who lived from 1848 to 1929, is most famous for his participation in the 1881 "Shootout at the O.K. Corral" in Tombstone, Ariz.)
Critics quickly praised it, and it made Mr. O'Brian a star.
"If we were doing Westerns with the chase and the fights that last endlessly, and the sheriff's daughter in sunbonnet and calico and the Wanted posters … we wouldn't reach the audience we reach each week," Mr. O'Brian once said.
Gunsmoke, which debuted just a few days after Wyatt Earp, became an even bigger hit, and by 1956-57, both were in the top 20 shows. In the 1958-59 season, Westerns accounted for an incredible seven out of the top 10 U.S. television series, including No. 1 Gunsmoke and No. 2 Wagon Train, with Wyatt Earp at No. 10.
Wyatt Earp remained a Top 20 hit until 1960, but it was canceled the following year after being supplanted by the avalanche of other adult Westerns.
Mr. O'Brian, meanwhile, continued to work frequently in movies, television and theater through the 1990s, although he never again achieved the prominence he enjoyed as Wyatt Earp.
He also made his mark in philanthropy as founder of the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership organization. The program, which began locally, eventually grew to national and international proportions and now claims more than 300,000 alumni, including Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor.
Each year, it brought together promising high school sophomores at sites around the country for leadership seminars. Mr. O'Brian received numerous awards for his achievement.