Ed Nelson, a prolific actor who became a familiar face to U.S. television audiences over 40 years, notably as a star of the prime-time soap opera “Peyton Place,” died Saturday in Greensboro, North Carolina. He was 85.
Asta Hansen, a daughter-in-law, confirmed the death.
Handsome at 6 feet tall, Nelson had a prominent role on “Peyton Place” as Michael Rossi, a New York doctor who sets up practice in the fictional town of the show’s title and is quickly caught up in its romantic intrigues.
“Peyton Place,” which ran from 1964 to 1969 on ABC, was based on the 1956 novel of the same title by Grace Metalious, which was also adapted for a 1957 film with Lana Turner. The TV version also featured Dorothy Malone and a young Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal.
Nelson appeared in 436 episodes of “Peyton Place”; at its peak, the show was seen three times a week. He also appeared in a 1977 television movie spinoff, “Murder in Peyton Place.”
Nelson’s career began in earnest in the mid-1950s, when he appeared in low-budget films like Roger Corman’s “Attack of the Crab Monsters.” He went on to appear in scores of popular television shows, many of them westerns during the genre’s television heyday, among them “Have Gun — Will Travel,” “Bat Masterson,” “Gunsmoke,” “Rawhide” and “The Rifleman.”
His other credits included “The Detectives,” “The Untouchables,” “The Twilight Zone” (in an episode, “Valley of the Shadow,” in which he starred as a reporter who finds himself trapped in a deceptively sleepy town), “The Fugitive,” “The FBI,” “The Rockford Files” and “Quincy, M.E.”
His last screen appearance was in a small role in the 2003 film “Runaway Jury,” with John Cusack, Rachel Weisz and Dustin Hoffman.
A stage actor as well, Nelson played President Harry S. Truman in a nationally touring production of “Give ’Em Hell, Harry!”
Edwin Stafford Nelson was born on Dec. 21, 1928, in New Orleans. He attended Tulane University there but left after two years to study acting in New York City. He returned to New Orleans to work in local television before moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He served in the Navy as a radioman on the light cruiser USS Dayton.
In 1972 he completed his college degree at Tulane.
Nelson, who lived in Greensboro and was recently in hospice care, is survived by his wife of 63 years, the former Patricia Miller; his daughters, Cynthia Borders, Beth Moore, Mary Sanders and Ann Bochenski; his sons, Gregory and Christopher; 14 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.