The Unusual Diet and Legacy of Dan Blocker: The Gentle Giant of Bonanza

The Unusual Diet and Legacy of Dan Blocker: The Gentle Giant of Bonanza

When “Bonanza” star Dan Blocker passed away unexpectedly at just 43 years old, it was a shock that reverberated throughout the entertainment world. Blocker, who had charmed audiences for 13 years as the lovable giant Hoss Cartwright on the hit Western series, left behind a legacy as big as his 6’4″ frame. But beyond his acting talent and larger-than-life personality, many wondered what fueled the massive 300-pound man. Blocker’s legendary appetite, a lesser-known aspect of his life, was as grand as his stature.

Early Life and Football Career

Dan Blocker was destined to be big, and not just in fame. Born in 1928 in Bowie County, Texas, he set a local record as the largest baby ever born in the area, weighing in at a hefty 14 pounds. His parents, Ora “Shack” and Mary Arizona Blocker, moved the family to O’Donnell, Texas, during Dan’s childhood. His father opened a modest grocery store after losing everything in the Great Depression, and young Dan spent his early years helping in the store, showcasing an early penchant for hard work and resilience.

By the age of 13, Dan was already towering at 6’3″ and nearly 300 pounds. He attended the Texas Military Institute, where he played football and quickly made a name for himself. Earning a football scholarship to Sul Ross State University, he was envisioned as a star linebacker. However, his interests soon shifted. He joined the university’s drama club and, after being encouraged to try out for a role, discovered a passion for acting that changed his life’s trajectory.

After graduation, Blocker turned down professional football offers to pursue acting. He moved to New York City, landing small theater roles before his budding career was interrupted by the Korean War draft. The military saw potential in his imposing size and strength, assigning him roles that utilized these attributes.

Discovering Acting and Landing Bonanza

After the Korean War, where he earned numerous honors, Blocker married his college sweetheart, Dolphia Parker, and returned to school to obtain a Master’s Degree in Dramatic Arts. Initially, he envisioned himself as a teacher, moving his family around Texas and New Mexico while teaching high school English and Drama. Yet, his passion for acting never waned.

Blocker began auditioning for television roles to supplement his teaching income and quickly secured bit parts in numerous Westerns. This steady stream of work reignited his acting ambitions. In 1958, he landed a recurring role on “Cimarron City,” though the show was canceled after its first season. Out of work, Blocker made a full-time commitment to acting.

Just in time, producer David Dortort cast him as Hoss Cartwright on “Bonanza.” Hoss, the warmhearted but simple middle brother, wasn’t initially seen as a breakout role. However, Blocker’s charm and affability made Hoss a fan favorite. His fame and opportunities in Hollywood grew significantly from there.

Dan Blocker’s Massive Appetite

While Dan Blocker’s acting skills and on-screen presence were well-known, his enormous appetite was legendary among those who knew him. His diet was a marvel in itself. Blocker loved to eat, starting his days with breakfasts that included a dozen eggs, two loaves of bread, and two quarts of milk. Despite these massive meals, he often felt hungry between them.

Lunches and dinners were equally impressive. Steaks, chops, roasts, potatoes, and bread rolls disappeared quickly from his plate. One of his favorite meals was reportedly an entire ham, just for himself. He had little interest in fruits and vegetables unless they were drenched in creamy sauces or fried with meat. Desserts like cakes, pies, and cookies were also among his favorites.

Blocker co-owned the successful restaurant chain Ponderosa Steakhouse, which began in 1965 and was inspired by the Cartwright family home on “Bonanza.” Its Western motif and hearty steaks were a tribute to his diet. Patrons were often amazed by the sight of Blocker, whose larger-than-life presence added to the restaurant’s allure.

Despite his love for food, Blocker had to manage his weight carefully, especially as it affected his health and his role on “Bonanza.” Producers and his own well-being required him to diet strictly whenever his weight climbed too high. He found it challenging to eat smaller portions, longing for the days when he could polish off platters meant for multiple people.

Dan Blocker’s Shocking, Untimely Death

In 1972, Dan Blocker’s life seemed to be at its peak. “Bonanza” was still a top-rated show, and he was enjoying his role as a family man and successful restaurateur. To maintain his health, he made efforts to watch his diet and keep his weight in check.

However, when Blocker was hospitalized for a minor elective surgery in the spring of 1972, no one anticipated any issues. Tragically, complications from the routine gall bladder operation led to a pulmonary embolism, and despite efforts to revive him, Blocker passed away. He was just 43 years old.

The shock and grief were immediate and widespread. “Bonanza” fans and co-stars were devastated by the loss. In his hometown of Texas, flags were lowered to half-mast. Even President Nixon and California Governor Ronald Reagan issued statements of condolence. The Los Angeles Rams, who had once tried to recruit Blocker, wore black armbands during their next game in his honor.

Dan Blocker’s funeral was held on May 15, 1972, in Los Angeles. The enormous coffin, befitting a man of his stature, required 12 pallbearers. His headstone poignantly described him as a “Beloved Husband and Father, Actor, Artist, Philosopher, Poet & Gentle Giant.”

Legacy and Impact

Though Dan Blocker’s life was cut tragically short, his impact on the entertainment world was profound. As Hoss Cartwright, he helped make “Bonanza” the most-watched TV program of the 1960s. Blocker’s character, Hoss, stood out for his lovable, gentle nature, which Blocker embodied perfectly.

Blocker used his fame to support various children’s charities and served as honorary mayor of North Hollywood in recognition of his community involvement. After his death, re-runs of “Bonanza” introduced Hoss to new generations. His hometown of O’Donnell, Texas, established the Dan Blocker Memorial Park, honoring his memory with statues.

Blocker’s legacy also lives on through his son, Dirk, who became an actor and stuntman. Every role Dirk takes on subtly pays tribute to his legendary father. Though Blocker’s life was brief, his warmth, humility, and larger-than-life presence left an enduring mark on all who knew him and countless fans around the world.

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