PAWHUSKA (AP) -- Ben Johnson's hometown friends remembered him
as a genuine cowboy unchanged by Hollywood fame as they laid him to
rest Sunday next his wife on the prairie where he grew up riding and roping.
More than 400 mourners gathered under sunny skies at a cemetery
near this small northeastern Oklahoma town to honor the
Oscar-winning actor they knew by the nickname, "Son."
"He was not a movie star. He was Ben Johnson and that is why this man was
great," said Clem McSpadden, a former Oklahoma congressman who befriended
Johnson during his days as a champion rodeo performer.
The star of more than 300 films, mostly Westerns, died Monday of
an apparent heart attack in Mesa, Ariz., at age 77. About 500
people attended his funeral Thursday in Mesa.
Strong winds whipped the canopy where Johnson's family gathered
in front of a daisy- and carnation-covered casket Sunday for a
final goodbye. Several men clutched their cowboy hats to their
chests as a single fiddle sounded the twanging notes of "Just a
Closer Walk With Thee."
Many of the mourners grew up with Johnson and said he stayed
true to his Oklahoma roots.
Johnson got his first big break in 1939. He drove a load of
horses by truck to California for use in "The Outlaw" and was hired
as the film's horse wrangler.
He was working as a double and stuntman when he was discovered
by director John Ford, who cast him as a cavalry sergeant in two of
his films and gave him the starring role in "The Wagon Master."
But it was a non-Western that brought Johnson an Academy Award
in 1971. He won best supporting actor for his role as a poolroom
operator in "The Last Picture Show."
Johnson was born in nearby Foraker and was reared on the
He won a World Champion Cowboy title in 1953 and returned regularly to
Oklahoma for the Ben Johnson Celebrity Rodeo he started in 1985 to raise
money to benefit Children's Medical Research Inc.
Johnson was buried next to his wife of 54 years, Carol, who died
in 1994. He is survived by his 95-year-old mother, Ollie Rider, a
sister, two nephews and a niece.
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