On this day in 1979, the country’s most iconic cowboy, John Wayne, died of stomach cancer at his home in California, surrounded by his family.
He was born Marion Robert Morrison in Iowa in 1907. His family moved West when he was a child, settling first in Lancaster and then in Glendale, California, where his father worked as a pharmacist.
The family dog, a huge Airedale, was named Duke. Marion was rarely seen without the dog. A neighborhood firefighter dubbed the boy "Little Duke," and the name stuck.
After finishing high school in Glendale, Morrison attended USC on a football scholarship. A body surfing accident ended his football playing days and his stint in college.
He found studio work, moving props and then getting bit parts. His acting career was launched as "John Wayne" when he appeared in a film called “The Big Trail.” The 1939 movie “Stagecoach,” directed by John Ford, made Wayne an overnight movie star. Critics and the public at large loved the film.
His role in the Ford movie "The Searchers" is considered by many actors and filmmakers the best performance by any actor on film.