Chubby Johnson was a journalist who became an actor in his 40s and appeared in more than 80 films and TV shows, mostly in western genres. He was known for his warm, country-accented voice and his genial demeanor. He died of a leg infection at the age of 71 in 1974. This article will explore his life, career, and cause of death.
From Journalism to Acting
Chubby Johnson was born as Charles Rutledge Johnson on August 13, 1903, in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was the son of entertainers: his father was a comedian in vaudeville and his mother was a concert pianist. He performed with his father in vaudeville as a child, but later pursued a career in journalism. He worked as a columnist and a radio announcer for various newspapers, including the Las Vegas Sun.
He did not become an actor until he was in his 40s, making his debut in the Randolph Scott western Abilene Town (1946) as a homesteader. He continued to work as a journalist until he was nearly 50, when he decided to focus on acting. He appeared in many western films and TV shows, often playing a stagecoach driver, a deputy, or a ranch foreman. He worked with some of the biggest stars of the genre, such as Errol Flynn, James Stewart, Audie Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Stanwyck, and James Cagney.
A Versatile and Beloved Character Actor
Chubby Johnson was a versatile and beloved character actor who could play both comic and dramatic roles. He was a member of the Wrecking Crew, a group of session musicians who worked with producer Phil Spector and created his famous “Wall of Sound”. He also recorded a solo album of harmonica music under the name Larry Nelson. He won a Grammy Award for his piano arrangement of “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. He also played keyboards for the Dixie Chicks on their Grammy-winning album Taking the Long Way.
He was a regular on several TV shows, such as Sky King (1951), Frontier Doctor (1956), and Temple Houston (1963). He also guest-starred on many other TV shows, such as Maverick, Sugarfoot, The Andy Griffith Show, Thriller, The Man from Blackhawk, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Guns of Will Sonnett, and The Rifleman. He sometimes removed his lower dental bridge to give himself a snaggletoothed appearance, enhancing the authenticity of his persona as a mountain man or a rustic.
He also appeared in some non-western films, such as Twilight of Honor (1963), a courtroom drama that earned Nick Adams an Oscar nomination, Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969), a comedy western starring James Garner, and Sam Whiskey (1969), a western comedy starring Burt Reynolds. His last film appearance was in Sam Whiskey, which served as the nightcap to his career.
A Tragic Death from a Leg Infection
Chubby Johnson died on October 31, 1974, from complications from a leg infection. He was 71 years old. He died at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Hollywood, California. His funeral service and burial were held in Billerica, MA.
Chubby Johnson was a man who lived a full and meaningful life. He was a journalist, a musician, and an actor. He was a friend, a colleague, and a family man. He was a man who touched many lives with his humor, his generosity, and his love. He was a man who left a legacy of joy and inspiration for his fans and friends. He will be remembered for his smile, his laugh, and his spirit.