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Harry Carey Jr

Actor and Western star;

Born: May 16, 1921; Died: December 27, 2012.

Harry Carey Jr, who has died aged 91, was one of the last survivors of the Hollywood Old West of John Ford and John Wayne. He had major roles in a string of classics from Red River in 1948 through to Back to the Future Part III and Tombstone in the 1990s.

It is possible to trace a fairly direct line back from Carey to the Real West of the 1860s – he may even have been the last man alive who knew Wyatt Earp. Certainly his father knew the legendary Tombstone marshal in Earp's final years when he hung around Hollywood, doing his best to shape his own legend.

Harry Carey Sr was a superstar of the silent era. He helped Ford get started as a director and Wayne modelled his screen image on him. It was reputedly Carey who introduced Earp to Ford, and Ford drew on Earp's first-hand, but fanciful account of the gunfight at the OK Corral for his 1946 film My Darling Clementine.

Even in these early days, when star salaries were more modest than they are now, Carey's father's earnings paid for a yacht and a sprawling ranch in Los Angeles County, where Carey Jr was born eight years before Earp died. He was named Henry George Carey, but known as Dobe, short for "adobe", because his hair was the red of adobe bricks. He grew up around film stars, horses and Native Americans and spoke Navajo from an early age.

During the Second World War, Carey served in the US Navy in the Pacific and worked on training films and propaganda documentaries with Ford.

After the war he made his mark in Raoul Walsh's highly regarded psychological western Pursued (1947) and in the Howard Hawks classic Red River (1948), with John Wayne, Monty Clift and Harry Carey Sr.

Carey Jr played the young cowboy who is killed in a stampede. He did not have any scenes with his father, who died before the film came out.

Ford gave Carey Jr a starring role as The Abilene Kid in 3 Godfathers (1948), alongside John Wayne and Pedro Armendariz. They play three outlaws who get landed with looking after a baby. But Carey always saw himself as more of a character actor than a star. He was also a superb horseman, who could stand on two galloping horses at once, one foot on the back of each.

Carey made nine films with Ford. He was a callow lieutenant in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and it was his fiancée who is kidnapped, raped and murdered in The Searchers (1956), prompting his suicidal one-man attack on their camp.

He and John Wayne went on making films together into the 1970s. By then a new generation of film-makers had come along, who prided themselves on their knowledge of Hollywood history and were keen to tip their stetsons to those who had ridden on ahead.

Peter Bogdanovich, who was Ford's biographer as well as a film-maker, cast Carey in Nickelodeon (1976), his tribute to early cinema. Joe Dante gave him a cameo role in Gremlins (1984).

And he was cast as Earp's predecessor Fred White in Tombstone (1993), with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, even though White was only 31 or 32 when he was killed and Carey was 72.

Carey's career spanned half a century and more than 150 films and TV shows. He is survived by Marilyn, his wife of 68 years, three children, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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