Blocker was born Bobby Don Blocker in De Kalb in East Texas, the son of Mary (née Davis) and Ora Shack Blocker. His family moved to O'Donnell, located in both Lynn and Dawson counties near Lubbock in West Texas, soon after his birth. He attended Texas Military Institute. He played football at Hardin-Simmons University in 1946, and later graduated from Sul Ross State Teacher's College in Alpine, where he earned a master's degree in the dramatic arts. (Although the "Hoss" character on Bonanza was conceived initially as lovable but slow-witted, Blocker was the only cast member with an advanced degree.)
Blocker was a high school English and drama teacher in Sonora, Texas, was a six grade teacher and coach at Eddy Elementary School in Carlsbad, New Mexico and a teacher in California. He reportedly worked as a rodeo performer and as a bouncer in a beer joint while a student. By all accounts he is remembered from his school days for his size of 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) and weight of 300 pounds (136 kg), and as being good-natured despite his intimidating size.
In 1957, Blocker appeared in a Three Stooges short, Outer Space Jitters, having portrayed the part of "The Goon," billed as "Don Blocker". Also in 1957 he appeared in episodes of the David Dortort-produced TV series The Restless Gun as a blacksmith and an oafish mute. In 1958 he played a prison guard and later a recurring role as Tiny Budinger in the TV series Cimarron City. He also was seen in a 1958 episode of Walt Disney's Zorro, "The Señorita Makes a Choice". Also in 1957, Blocker appeared as a bartender in an episode of the syndicated western-themed crime drama Sheriff of Cochise, starring John Bromfield.
In 1959, as Bonanza was beginning, Blocker guest-starred in an episode of the Keenan Wynn and Bob Mathias NBC series The Troubleshooters, an adventure program about unusual events surrounding an international construction company. In 1968, Blocker starred with Frank Sinatra in the "Tony Rome" film sequel Lady In Cement.
Blocker played the outgoing "middle son" Hoss on the long-running NBC television series, Bonanza. The actor who played his elder brother Adam, Pernell Roberts, was born a scant seven months before Blocker. Blocker said he portrayed the Hoss character with a Stephen Grellet excerpt in mind: "We shall pass this way on Earth but once, if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again."
Stanley Kubrick attempted to cast Blocker in his film Dr. Strangelove, after Peter Sellers elected not to add the role of Major T.J. "King" Kong to his multiple other roles, but according to the film's co-writer, Terry Southern, Blocker's agent rejected the script. The role subsequently went to Slim Pickens.
Director Robert Altman befriended Blocker while directing episodes of Bonanza. Years later, he cast Blocker as Roger Wade in The Long Goodbye. Unfortunately, Blocker died before filming commenced. The role went to Sterling Hayden and the film was dedicated to Blocker.
Blocker received partial ownership in a successful chain of Ponderosa/Bonanza Steakhouse restaurants in exchange for serving (in character as Hoss) as their commercial spokesman and making personal appearances at franchises.
Fame frightens me; it truly does, perhaps because I wasn't expecting it. I feel like I have a tiger by the tail. I'm in this business for the money. I need money, like anyone else, because I want to give to my wife and kids a good home and a good life. It's what any man wants to do for his family. Hell, man, I'm just an ordinary guy.
The Long Goodbye (1973) is dedicated to Dan Blocker. Robert Altman, who had directed many early episodes of "Bonanza" (1959), and had become friends with him, had originally cast him in the role of Roger Wade. However, Blocker died before filming commenced, so the role was subsequently filled by Sterling Hayden.
Blocker was drafted into the Army and served in the Korean War as a First Sergeant. He later married Dolphia Parker, whom he had met while a student at Sul Ross State. All of their four children's names begin with a 'D': actor Dirk Blocker, producer David Blocker and twin daughters Debra Lee (artist) and Danna Lynn.
A Free Methodist, Blocker was among Hollywood celebrities who supported Pat Brown's re-election as Governor of California (opposing Ronald Reagan's candidacy) in 1966, and then U.S. Senator Eugene J. McCarthy for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. Blocker later supported the eventual Democratic Party nominee, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey from Minnesota, for the presidency against the Republican Richard M. Nixon. Blocker so opposed the Vietnam War that he uprooted his family in 1968 and moved them to Lugene Switzerland ("Bonanza: Scenery of the Ponderosa: Episode Guide- Season 14"). He kept a house in Inglewood, California and commuted to NBC. His 6,000-square foot Tudor style mansion in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles is currently owned by Rob Zombie.
Blocker once owned an authentic 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle SS396 (with the sought-after Z16 option) as Chevrolet was the commercial sponsor of the show. His Chevelle, now in private hands, is sometimes displayed in car shows. He was also the owner of a 1965 Huffaker Genie MK10 race car, nicknamed the "Vinegaroon." The car was run by Nickey Chevrolet in the 1965 and 1966 U.S. Road Racing Championship series, as well as the 1966 Can-Am championship.
On May 13, 1972, in Los Angeles, Blocker died suddenly following routine gall bladder surgery, of a pulmonary embolism (essentially, a post-op blood-clot to the lungs). The cast and crew of Bonanza were shaken by his death, and the writers took the then-unusual step of referencing a major character's death in the show's storyline that autumn. Bonanza lasted another season, but the final season in which Blocker did not appear is the least-requested in reruns.
Blocker's remains are buried in a family plot in DeKalb, although he lived there only briefly. The common gravesite is marked by a plain stone with the name "BLOCKER" engraved, and three family members are buried beside him.
Had four children: Debra Lee, Danna Lynn, David Blocker, and Dirk Blocker.
O'Donnell is located in the panhandle of West Texas, about 40 miles south of Lubbock, Texas. There is a museum located in O'Donnell dedicated to Mr. Blocker.
Father of producer David Blocker and actor Dirk Blocker.
Father of identical twin daughters, Danna and Debra.
Interred at DeKalb Cemetery, DeKalb, Texas, USA.
Started and owned the Bonanza steak house restaurant chain.
Attended and played football for Sul Ross State College, Alpine, Texas, graduating in 1950.
Blocker was approached to play Major "King" Kong in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) after Peter Sellers was injured. However, according to Terry Southern (co-writer), Blocker's agent rejected the script as being "too pinko".
Best remembered by the public for his role as Hoss on "Bonanza" (1959).
Taught high school in West Texas before becoming an actor.
With some repertory theater experience at the time, the Korean War interrupted his fledgling career. He instead returned to teaching school after his military discharge and went to work on his Ph.D at the University of Calfornia in Los Angeles. Finances were a problem at the time and it was then that he fell back into acting and found TV work.
Made his Broadway debut as part of the ensemble cast of Louis Calhern's "King Lear," which opened on Christmas Day in 1950, which was Monday, December 25th, 1950.
Received his first taste of theater life at college when the drama club was performing "Arsenic and Old Lace", and needed someone to pack up the bodies from the cellar for the play's curtain call.
Hardly the romancer, one touching, acclaimed "Bonanza" episode had his Hoss character fall in love with a beautiful girl, played by Inger Stevens.
Once was considered for a lead role in the movie MASH (1970).
Served in the Korean War, a first sergeant with the 45th Oklahoma Division.
Attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and played football. After that he entered Sul-Ross State College on a football scholarship, and was an amateur boxer. While at Sul-Ross he not only won the 1949 Best College Acting award for his portrayal of De Lawd in a production of "Green Pastures," but met his future wife, Dolphia Lee Parker, originally from Alpine, Texas.
Was enrolled at the Texas Military Institute in San Antonio when he was 13 years old and weighed 200 lbs.
Father was a poor Texas farmer who lost the farm after the Depression. His father later went into the grocery business.
His weight was 14 lbs, at birth, on Monday, December 10th, 1928.
He was an activist Liberal Democrat and a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War.
Taught history in Sonora high school with my grandfather in 1953~58, appeared in a school play there where he played a bride at the alter and my grandfather was the minister. I had a school annual for years he had signed. Sonora, Texas is located on I-10 in west Texas and is about 2000 people today.
Took his family on a summer vacation by car from Sonora to Hollywood and was discovered, while making phone calls in a sidewalk phone booth and dressed in western, wearing heeled cowboy boots, with spurs, on them, a gaudy western shirt and a big straw cowboy hat. His wife and kids were sitting in the station wagon parked at the curb, when he was noticed by an agent.
[My father once told me] 'Son, the rate you're growing you're going to be one helluva big fella. If you use your size and strength properly it can be a wonderful thing for you. If you don't Heaven help you. One day you'll start pushing some little guy around and he'll pull a gun and blow your brains out.'
Being big has its advantages, especially when you're doing the rounds of the agents' offices. They don't forget you in a hurry. But it has its disadvantages too, you've got to have a bed special made...mine is 7 feet long. You've got to be careful when you sit down. I used to wreck a couple of chairs a week in the studio. Weight is a problem with me. If I don't watch it, it shoots up to around 300 pounds. It bugs me having to go on a diet but here isn't any alternative. I remember breakfast when I ate a dozen eggs, two loaves of bread and drank two quarts of milk. Now I eat like a normal guy and I'm always hungry. If I had been a little guy I'd probably still be teaching school in Carlsbad, New Mexico.