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Ralph Meeker, Tough-Guy Star of Broadway, Screen And TV Dead Of Heart Attack

August 6, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Ralph Meeker, whose portrayal of cocky tough guys had him teamed with such stars as John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda in a career on stage, screen and television, is dead. He was 67.

Meeker died of a heart attack Friday at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills. He had been admitted to the hospital 11 months ago, said spokeswoman Jean Ferris.

He had suffered a series of strokes over the past eight years, said Jim Bacon, a longtime friend.

Meeker, who originated the role of the disillusioned drifter Hal Carter in William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play ″Picnic″ also portrayed the hard-bitten detective Mike Hammer in the movie ″Kiss Me Deadly″

He appeared in more than 50 movies and dozens of Broadway plays, and starred for two years in the 1960s television show ″Not for Hire.″

″He was considered an actor’s actor by his peers,″ Bacon said. ″He was one of the better actors in the movies but ... he never received the stardom he deserved. He got more recognition on Broadway than he did in the movies.″

Born Ralph Rathgeber in Minneapolis on Nov. 21, 1920, Meeker got into pictures through his success in ″Picnic,″ which opened on Broadway in 1953.

″The late William Holden did the movie version of the celebrated play, but Meeker’s performance on Broadway earned him an MGM contract,″ Bacon said.

Some of Meeker’s films included ″The Dirty Dozen″ and ″Brannigan″ with Wayne and ″The Naked Spur″ with Stewart.

But Meeker’s first love was the theater.

″Before ‘Picnic’ he had starred on Broadway in such famous plays as ‘The Doughgirls,’ ‘Strange Fruit’ and ’Cyrano de Bergerac,‴ Bacon said.

Meeker also appeared with Fonda in the stage production of ″Mister Roberts″ and replaced Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams’ ″A Streetcar Named Desire.″

Meeker, who could play the piano, accordion, guitar and drums, began his acting career at Northwestern University.

In recent years he lived in Sun Valley, where he owned the Cecil B. DeMille ranch, location of many of DeMille’s biblical epics.

Funeral services are scheduled Tuesday at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital chapel, said Meeker’s former wife, Colleen.

Meeker is survived by his wife, Millie.