December 10, 1983
Slim Pickens, the gravel-voiced rodeo cowboy who rode to motion picture stardom aboard a nuclear bomb in the movie Dr. Strangelove", died late Thursday in Modesto. He was 64.
Pickens' wife, Maggie, said her husband died at Evergreen Convalescent Hospital, where he had been since Oct. 11. At his bedside were his wife and two daughters, Maggie Lou and Daryle Ann.
A funeral was planned for Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the Church of the 49ers in Columbia, the historic Tuolumne County gold rush town where Pickens lived.
One of Pickens' daughters was married in the quaint, wood-frame church on Jackson Street two years ago by Associate Pastor Marc D. Andresen, who will conduct the funeral service.
Norma Fink, Pickens' attorney and a longtime family friend, said Pickens died at 9:15 p.m. She said Pickens never fully recovered from pneumonia he contracted after undergoing brain surgery last year.
On Aug. 10, 1982, neurosurgeons removed a brain tumor from the actor at the University of California at San Francisco.
Pickens was born Louis Bert Lindley, Jr. in the Fresno County community of Kingsburg on June 29, 1919. He performed in rodeos throughout the Central Valley during the 1930's.
He got his first horse at age four and was riding bareback ten years later on the rodeo circuit. He had to change his name when his father objected to his rodeo riding.
"My father was against rodeoing and told me he didn't want to see my name on the entry lists ever again," Pickens once said in an interview. "While I was fretting about what to call myself, some old boy sitting on a wagon spoke up and said, "Why don't you call yourself Slim Pickens,'cause that's what your prize money will be."
He quit school at 16 to turn professional, starting as an all-around rodeo hand specializing in bronc busting, brahma bull riding, wild horse racing and any other act assigned to him. He was thrown, bitten, trampled, kicked and gored by bucking horses and rampaging bulls over the years.
When he entered the Army during World War II, Pickens was asked his civilian experience: "Rodeo," he replied. The Army misunderstood and placed him in a radio unit.
"All that rodeo punishment just conditioned me for what I had to put up with later from movie and TV producers," Pickens once told an interviewer. "Hell, I had one side of my body X-rayed after I got throwed one time and it showed I had 17 broken bones on that side alone."
Pickens' started his movie career in 1945 when he was paid $25 to appear in the film "Smoky," starring Fred MacMurray, Pickens rode a "chute-fightin' son-of-a-gun named Sundown."
He continued his rodeo career after "Smoky," but became an actor full time in 1950 after director William Keighley found him at a Saugus rodeo and offered him a screen test.
"I did the test only because I was crippled up from a bull and thought I could make some money while I was healing up," Pickens told an interviewer.
Pickens said he was amazed to learn on his arrival in Hollywood that western actors and stuntmen were paid to fall off horses in front of the cameras, "while I was paying rodeo entry fees to get my neck broke."
Keighley hired Pickens for Errol Flynn's "Rocky Mountain."
"I know I'll never be an actor, but let them find that out for themselves," Pickens said.
Although he appeared in dozens of Westerns, Pickens' most memorable role was probably that of the B-52 pilot who rode a hydrogen bomb to Armageddon in "Dr. Strangelove," yippeeing and whipping it with his cowboy hat onto a Russian target.
His movie career soared after his role as the brawling, cowboy-style pilot Maj. King Kong in Stanley Kubrick's 1969 film. "After 'Dr. Strangelove' my salary jumped five times," Pickens said in a 1981 interview. "And assistant directors started saying 'Hey, Slim,' instead of 'Hey, you.'"
With his distinctive western whine, Pickens was one of the most popular of the comic movie cowboys and saddle opera sidekicks.
He appeared in too many "B" westerns for Republic Studios to remember or count, he once said. In addition to "Doctor Strangelove," his films included "Blazing Saddles," "The Cowboys," Major Dundee," "The Getaway," "The Great Locomotive Chase" and "The Apple Dumpling Gang."
He played Willie Nelson's sidekick and guitar player in the 1980 movie "Honeysuckle Rose" and appeared in the TV western comedies "B. J. and the Bear" and "The Outlaws."
Pickens was elected last April to the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, where the California flag was lowered to half staff Friday after the announcement of the actor's death.
Pickens was a natural for the parts he played after spending 20 years among the nation's top rodeo cowboys, as a rider and clown. He was proud of the fact he was one of the few western actors who could actually drive a six-horse stagecoach team.
He appeared in a straight dramatic role in "One-Eyed Jacks" with Marlon Brando, saying afterward that he preferred comedy. Years later, though, he took an offbeat part as a werewolf in "The Howling."
"How's that for versatillity?" he cracked in an interview.
In addition to his wife, Margaret of Columbia, Pickens is survived by two daughters, Daryle Ann Giardino of Toluca Lake and Margaret Louise Wittman of Columbia; a son, Thomas M. Lindley of Reno; two brothers, Samuel Lindley of San Andreas and Thomas Nichols of Glendale; and four grandsons.
He moved to the Gold Springs subdivision in Columbia in 1975.
Pickens was a gold card member of the Rodeo Clowns Association; a board member of Friends of Brain Tumor Research, University of California, San Francisco Medical Center; the Sportsmens of Stanislaus; the Black Powder and National Rifle associations; American Mule Association; Carriage preservation Club; Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
He was an honorary Texas Ranger and a board member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
A sculptor, he was a contributor and benefactor of the Los Angeles County Museum.
The family prefers any remembrances be sent to the Friends of Brain Tumor Research Center, UC Medical Center, 360 Parnassus St., Suite 807, San Francisco 94117
Inurnment will be private.
Transcribed by Pat Andrews
NOTE: There is another article accompanying the above obituary with various quotes from friends, neighbors and co-workers of Mr. Lindley. This appears in the same issue and on the same page.