The Missing Piece: The Tragic Story of Hoss Cartwright Leaving Bonanza

The TV series Bonanza (1959-1973) was well ahead of its time, covering issues such as women’s empowerment and racism. Interestingly, more than 40 years later, the show is still popular, and folks resonate with it.

Aside from the incredible themes, there is no doubt that the actors played a big role (no pun intended) in making Bonanza the amazing show it is. That cast member that particularly stands out is Eric Cartwright, aka Hoss Cartwright.

Despite his imposing size, Hoss (Dan Blocker) was gentle, kind, emotionally intelligent, and humorous. Yet, show producers suddenly cut him out, leaving fans wondering: why did Hoss Cartwright leave Bonanza?

Well, we’ve got all the deets! Read on for the real story about what happened to Hoss.

Dan Blocker Perfectly Depicted Hoss’s Character

Bonanza follows the story of a fictional, wealthy Nevada family of cattle ranchers. The narrative zooms into the day-to-day life of family patriarch Ben Cartright (Lorne Greene) and his three sons Adam Cartwright (Pernell Roberts), Eric “Hoss” Cartwright (Dan Blocker) and Little Joe Cartwright (Michael Landon), each by a different deceased mother.

Adam was the eldest son and was calm, objective, and temperamental. Hoss was the middle child– sweet, likeable, and compassionate despite his imposing stature.

Aptly named Joseph “Little Joe,” Cartwright was the baby of the house, but his good looks and bad boy attitude earned him fame among many a ladies.

As expected for a show that ran for thirteen years, the cast changed regularly. With the likes of David Canary, aka Candy Canady stepping in to fill the shoes of Pernell Roberts.

Dan Blocker, who played Hoss, remained with the popular TV series for more than 12 years, only to abruptly leave in the fourteenth season.

Born in February 1928, Dan Blocker worked in the military for some time before becoming a teacher. During his teaching career, he ventured into acting and has never looked back since.

Due to his imposing size, most of the roles Blocker was cast in his early career were that of a cute sidekick or daring villain. Despite working in television for many years, Blocker couldn’t secure consistent work that would make him a celebrity– until Bonanza came calling in 1959.

Blocker was the perfect choice for the character of Hoss Cartwright, as evidenced by the love audiences worldwide had for him.

Why Was Hoss Written Out Of Bonanza?

A few weeks before season thirteen of Bonanza, Dan Blocker fell sick and had surgery to remove his gall bladder. Unfortunately, the actor died suddenly from post-operative complications, primarily pulmonary embolism.

Blocker was such an affable, loving, and fan character and friend–everyone on the show loved him, and his sudden passing was a big loss for the show and cast. Either way, the show’s producers and remaining cast had to think of ways to naturally cut Hoss’s character out of the popular western series.

The decision to kill Hoss’s character was the first time in television history that a young male major character was killed, not simply written off. Of course, this practice was common for female characters, but back then, it was a big deal to kill off the good guy, especially if he were male.

Fans did not know about Blocker’s cause of death (gall bladder surgery complications) until nearly fifteen years later when the made-for-television movie Bonanza: The Next Generation aired. The original cast members were not in the movie, which depicted the reason for Hoss’s death as drowning as he tried to save a woman’s life.

Hoss’s Loss Negatively Affected Bonanzaa’s Ratings

By the 14th season, show producers had already decided to cancel the western television series. For that final season, the writers tried penning in a new character, Griff King, to replace Hoss.

Griff was a parolee keen on turning his life around. So Ben Cartwright adopted him into the family. Candy Canaday, a ranch handyman, had left but also returned, all in an attempt to solidify the show in the absence of Hoss. But, Blocker’s shoes proved too big for anyone else to fill.

“After Dan died, it was hard to see how the show would proceed,” said Lorne Green, the family’s patriarch.

Michael Landon, who played the role of Little Joe Cartwright, felt the same way, recalling how painful it was returning to filming without Blocker. “When we first returned, that first day was so bad.”

“We were all trying to force jokes. We had so many good times and horsing around in the dining room over the last 13 years, with Dan and Lorne,” said Landon.

Bonanza Did Not Directly Address Hoss’s Death

After filming together for over a decade, the Bonanza cast was pretty close and became each other’s family, which helped them all put up a good show. Even the cast agrees that the success behind the television series was the cast.

“The show is popular not because of the stories; but because of the three brothers and their father,” said Dan Blocker in a past interview.

It would be fair to say that the show did not do a very good job addressing Ross’s death and being transparent about it. Before that final season, Michael Landon (Joe Little) warned viewers that they probably would not get any closure about what happened to Hoss.

“I am sure some of you would rather have us dedicated an entire hour memorial to Blocker but were not in a position to do that, but we tried doing what we thought he would’ve wished for us to do,” said Landon in a statement.

He added, “We try to bring up Hoss in passing, very simply. Not everyone will be happy, but it is what it is.”

True to his word, the final episode of the fourteenth season, in which Little Joe’s wife, Alice Cartwright, dies, does not mention or even address Hoss’s death.

Instead, we see Little Joe struggling to cope with his wife’s death. He returns to the house where she is beaten and burnt and picked up a charred photo of his wife.

The camera zooms in on this photo and then on Hoss’s photo nearby, and Little Joe breaks down grieving his wife and, of course, the real-life death of his friend, Dan Blocker.