Peter Breck, Nick in “The Big Valley,” dead at 82

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Peter Breck

Peter Breck

Long­time char­ac­ter actor Peter Breck, best known for play­ing Vic­to­ria Barkley’s (Bar­bara Stan­wyck) mid­dle son Nick on The Big Val­ley, died Monday.

His death was announced Thurs­day morn­ing by his wife Diane on The Big Val­ley Writ­ing Desk, a site for fans of the TV West­ern, which ran from 1965 to 1969. In 2010, she announced on his offi­cial Web site that the actor had been suf­fer­ing from dementia.

My dar­ling hus­band… (had been in hos­pi­tal since Jan­u­ary 10,” she said in an e-mail, which was posted to the site. “I never dreamed that he would not be com­ing back home. How­ever he fought his ill­ness for so many years — he tried so hard.”

Breck pro­vided the voice of Farmer Brown in Crit­ters, a 1998 episode of The New Bat­man Adven­tures.

In late 1980s, Breck and his wife moved to Van­cou­ver, where he oper­ated an act­ing school — The Breck Acad­emy — for a decade. Later, they retired to Parksville, British Columbia.

Born Joseph Peter Breck in Haver­hill, Mass­a­chu­setts on March 13, 1929, he became famous for his recur­ring por­trayal of Doc Hol­i­day on TV’s Mav­er­ick (1957).

His father, Joseph “Jobie” Breck, was a jazz musi­cian who played with all the greats of that era, includ­ing Fats Waller, Bix Bieder­beck, Paul White­man and Bil­lie Hol­i­day. Because his par­ents were on the road often, he lived with his grand­par­ents in Haver­hill in his ear­lier years.

Upon leav­ing John Mar­shall High School, Breck went into the United States Navy and became a first class petty offi­cer on the USS Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt, an air­craft car­rier, work­ing as a baker.

After his Navy dis­charge, he returned to Rochester and stud­ied Eng­lish and drama at the Uni­ver­sity of Hous­ton in Texas. His first the­atre was the Attic The­atre, which was part of the school’s drama depart­ment. When he had free time, he also started to sing at dif­fer­ent clubs around Houston.

Breck went to the Wash­ing­ton Arena Stage in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where he was play­ing Napoleon’s adju­tant in George Bernard Shaw’s Man of Des­tiny. Actor Robert Mitchum went back­stage and asked him, “Do you wanna make a movie?” That movie was Thun­der Road, which marked Breck’s screen debut. The low-budget film The Beat­niks and the major movie I Want To Live fol­lowed.

After Breck did sev­eral more films, for­mer actor Dick Pow­ell, the head of pro­duc­tion com­pany Four Star, Inc., offered him the lead in a new series, Law­gun, which went on the air as Black Sad­dle. He played Clay Cul­hane along­side Anna-Lisa and Rus­sell John­son (later of Gilligan’s Island fame).

Other actors per­form­ing along­side Breck in The Big Val­ley included future stars Linda Evans (Dynasty) and Lee Majors (The Six Mil­lion Dol­lar Man).

In the 1970s, he returned to his “first love,” act­ing and direct­ing in the­atre. He appeared all over the United States and Canada in many plays, such as The Rain­maker, Mr. Roberts, Accom­mo­da­tions and A Thou­sand Clowns.

In later years, Breck wrote a col­umn for Wildest West­erns mag­a­zine and recorded a CD of orig­i­nal tunes, Just Kickin’ Back.

Peter Breck is pre­de­ceased by his son Christo­pher and half-brother Georgie. He is sur­vived by his wife, for­mer dancer Diane Bourne, whom he mar­ried in 1960. He also had two half-sisters, Judith and Virginia.

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