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Don Matheson, who played one of the stranded “little people” on the Irwin Allen 1960s ABC sci-fi series Land of the Giants, has died, his daughter told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 84.
Matheson, who worked as a Detroit narcotics cop before becoming an actor, died June 29 in his sleep in the Woodland Hills home of his daughter, actress and musician Michele Matheson, and her family. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer 10 months ago.
Matheson played short-tempered businessman Mark Wilson on Land of the Giants, which aired for two seasons from September 1968 until March 1970. It replaced another Allen-produced series, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, on Sunday nights on ABC and was extremely expensive to make, costing a reported $250,000 an episode. John Williams did the theme music.
Set in the year 1983, the 20th Century Fox hourlong series revolved around the crew and passengers of the spaceship Spindrift, which on the way to London crashed on a planet whose humanoid inhabitants were hostile and unbelievably huge.
The athletic Matheson and his castmates did many of their own stunts, such as being dropped into specimen jars or climbing ropes, as they tried to remain alive with hopes of returning home. The little people were filmed from cranes high above, while images of the “giants” were captured from the floor with hand-held cameras.
Matheson wed another star on the show, Deanna Lund, in 1970 shortly after Land of the Giants was canceled, but their marriage ended in divorce. He never remarried, and their daughter said they remained the best of friends.
“They talked several times a day, laughed and drove each other nuts and lived across the street from one another or within a couple blocks for the last 35 years,” said Michele, who had a recurring role on the 1985-90 ABC sitcom Mr. Belvedere.
Before Land of the Giants, Matheson appeared as an evil amphibian in a 1967 episode of Voyage and in two installments of yet another legendary Allen sci-fi series Lost in Space.
Later, Matheson played the henchman Mr. Padgett on CBS primetime soap Falcon Crest and millionaire industrialist Cameron Faulkner on ABC’s daytime serial General Hospital.
His TV résumé also included such shows as McHale’s Navy, Death Valley Days, Emergency! The Waltons, Eight Is Enough, Dynasty and 7th Heaven.
Matheson also was a jazz drummer who often was invited to play on stage by his friend, Buddy Rich.
A native of Dearborn, Mich., Matheson served in the Korean War and was awarded the Bronze Star. He joined the Detroit police force, and while investigating a crime at a theater, asked the theater director how to get involved when he noticed everyone who worked there “looked so happy,” his daughter said. He returned to perform a monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire and joined the group, launching his acting career.
In addition to Deanna and Michele, survivors include his son-in-law, Jason, grandchildren Jack and Jolene and stepchildren Randy and Kim.
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