Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Sad Day for Little House Fans: Merlin Olsen Dies at 69

What a shock it was to hear of the passing of Merlin Olsen on March 10th. He played Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie.

While many in the sports world knew Olsen as a player for the NFL, and later, a sports announcer, it was as Jonathan Garvey that I, and other Little House on the Prairie fans, got to know him.

The Garvey family, which included Jonathan's wife, Alice, and their son, Andrew, first appeared in Season 4. Like the Edwards family before them, the Garveys were great friends to the Ingalls family. Laura and Andrew, and later Andrew and Albert, got into plenty of mischief together.

Jonathan and Alice did not always get along. In The High Cost of Being Right, Jonathan and Alice argue over her taking a job as the post mistress after their barn burns down. When phone lines are installed in Walnut Grove in the episode Crossed Connections, Mrs. Oleson uses her time on the switchboard to snoop on her neighbors, which leads to her discovering that Alice Garvey had been married before. Angry that she kept this secret from him, Jonathan moves out. It takes an old, tired bartender to get Jonathan to realize just how lucky he really is.

We are devastated right along with Jonathan and Andrew when Alice is killed during a fire at the Walnut Grove School for the Blind. Jonathan takes to drinking, while Andrew is left to deal with the loss of his mother alone. With the help of friends, Jonathan is finally able to accept Alice's death, and he and Andy work on rebuilding their lives. Eventually, Jonathan and Andrew move to Sleepy Eye, which brings with it a new set of troubles for the Garveys.

Olsen left Little House on the Prairie to star in his own short-lived series, Father Murphy. And then the series, Aaron's Way, which only lasted one season.

Whether you remember Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen as a member of the L.A. Rams' Fearsome Four, Jonathan Garvey, Father Murphy, or as the spokesperson for FTD Florist, his distinctive voice and his larger-than-life presence cannot be denied. Many called him a "gentle giant". This is definitely how I have always pictured him.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this time of loss. He will certainly be missed.

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