Easy Rider

updated 02/20/1995 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/20/1995 01:00AM

IT GAVE ME INCENTIVE TO GET WELL, AND I AM WELL," ACTOR Doug McClure, 59, declared on Dec. 16, when his star installed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Alas, McClure recovery from lung cancer was all too brief; the disease returned a month later, and McClure died at his Sherman Okas, Calif., home last week with Diane, his wife of 16 years and a spate of friends and family at his bedside.

From 1962 to l971, McClure and James Drury defined cowhand bonding and branding for a generation of viewers in the popular TV series The Virginian. A native of Glendale, Calif., McClure briefly ran away from home and L.A.'s University High School (where Drury was a classmate) to learn roping and steering on a Nevada ranch. A gifted athlete who spent more time surfing than studying at UCLA, McClure was spotted by an agent cm the beach and soon landed in a soap commercial. He made appearances in several TV series, notably Checkmate, before he and Drury teamed up in The Virginian.

They also hit the drinking trail hard, according to Drury, who eventually gave up booze and persuaded McClure to do the same (along with cigarettes) in 1982. McClure's drinking may well have contributed to four divorces (he had two daughters from his earlier marriages: Tane, 36, and Valerie, 23). Yet he was always lively company (his Burt Lancaster impersonation Ws a Hollywood favorite), and he managed to keep Working (in 1975's The Land That Time Forgot and in 1994's Maverick) long after TV westerns bit the dust. "Anytime I laid eyes on Doug, I couldn't help smiling," says Drury. "He was the finest guy I ever knew."

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