Like many others, I learned this morning of the death of Dan Haggerty, the actor who gained fame playing the title character in the 1970s TV series The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. Haggerty was one of my mom’s favorite TV hunks, along with Hal Linden, oddly enough. The show was based on a book of the same title by Charles Sellier, and the book in turn was based on an actual historical figure, John (sometimes misidentified as his brother James Capen) Adams (1812-60).
The historical Adams was a trapper, merchant and animal trainer before he went West in 1849. While in California, he trained a couple of grizzly bears, which is how he earned his nickname.
But not all his encounters with bears were positive. In 1855, he was mauled by a mother grizzly, and was only saved when one of his pet grizzlies defended him. The injuries he received left him scarred, and even more notably, included a head injury that eventually left his brain exposed for his remaining years.
And that’s what killed him, but not in the way one might think. He went back to work as a trainer and eventually hooked up with P.T. Barnum. While training a monkey, something went wrong, and the simian bit Adams — in the brain. The ensuing infection likely did Adams in.
Let’s savor that for a moment, shall we? The man apparently died from a monkey bite to the brain. It’s simultaneously horrifying and oddly impressive, like something from a men’s adventure mag from the 1950s. Compared to that, Mr. Haggerty’s life and death were rather quotidian.
All the same, we bid Mr. Haggerty farewell, and thank him for the entertainment.