Peter Palmer, the veteran stage and screen actor who starred in the Broadway and big-screen musical versions of Li'l Abner, has died. Palmer died on Tuesday, Sept. 21, his son Steven Palmer confirmed. Palmer passed away just a day after he celebrated his 90th birthday. A cause of death was not provided.
Palmer's son confirmed his father's passing in a message shared to Facebook on Tuesday, Steven sharing "with a sad heart" that his father had passed away "the day after his 90th birthday." Steven said he and his family "knew this was coming," and as such, they "had such a wonderful celebration of his birthday this weekend. He enjoyed being celebrated by his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews and friends and extended family." Steven ended the message by writing, "Gonna miss you, Pops."
Born in Milwaukee in September 1931, Palmer played football at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he sang the national anthem while in uniform at home games, in the early 1950s, before he kickstarted his acting career with an appearance on CBS' The Ed Sullivan Show. He landed the role, according to The Hollywood Reporter, after he won a singing contest while in the U.S. Army, with the reward being an appearance on the series. It was his rendition of "Granada" on the show that caught the attention of Li'l Abner producers-writers Melvin Frank and Norman Panama. In a 2005 interview with Broadway World, Palmer recalled how following his appearance on Sullivan, auditioned for Li'l Abner "a week later... and four months later I was in rehearsal."
In Li'l Abner, the Broadway production based on the Al Capp comic strip that ran from 1934 through 1977, Palmer originated the role of Li'l Abner Yokum from Dogpatch, U.S.A. The musical, also featuring Stubby Kaye as Marryin' Sam, Edie Adams as Daisy Mae and Julie Newmar as Stupefyin' Jones, opened at the St. James Theatre in November 1956, with Palmer later receiving a Theatre World Award. Palmer again took on the role in Frank's film adaptation of the same name, which marked Palmer's first screen credit.
Throughout his decades-long career, Palmer earned a number of credits. He had regular roles on the 1967 ABC drama Custer and the 1977 NBC sitcom The Kallikaks. He also guest-starred on The Bill Dana Show, Emergency!, The Rockford Files, Three's Company, Charlie's Angels, Dallas, and Superboy. He is survived by six children, including son Steven from his first wife Jackie, to whom he was married from 1954 to 1964. Palmer was also married to Aniko Farrell, who died in 2011, from 1966 until Farrell's death.