Tom Lester, best known for playing Eb Dawson on Green Acres, died on April 20 from complications related to Parkinson’s Disease. He was 81.
According to his obituary, posted on Facebook by Lester’s brother Michael, the actor was in Nashville at the home of his fiancée and long term caregiver, Jackie Peters, when he died.
Lester Graduated From the University of Mississippi
Lester was born and raised in Laurel, Mississippi.
He graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1960 with a degree in chemistry and biology before packing his things and moving to Los Angeles. At the time, he had no acting experience.
MeTV quotes Lester as saying:
I might not make it, but at least I’m going to try. And I would’ve rather gone out there and tried and failed then to never have gone out there at all. And I read an article once where they asked Don Knotts who was Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, ‘How in the world did you ever get into movies?’ Because he didn’t look anything at all like Rock Hudson. And he said, ‘I figured everybody in Hollywood was good-looking and had a good physique. I figured they needed somebody a little bit different.’
It took Lester less than three years to book the role of Eb Dawson on the CBS comedy Green Acres, which ran from 1965 to 1971. A number of rumors suggest he beat out 400 actors for the role. Eb Dawson wasn’t initially intended to be such a big part of the show, but Lester’s performance was so popular that he became a series regular.
According to American Profile, friends and family never thought he’d become a successful actor. Lester told the outlet in 2007, “They said, ‘You are too tall, too skinny, too ugly, you have a Southern accent and you don’t look like Rock Hudson.’”
Lester was known to be a humble man, and despite his Green Acres fame he lived in an apartment above a garage in the San Fernando Valley.
Lester Was a Farmer & Evangelist in His Later Years
After Green Acres, Lester pivoted to focus on his faith, speaking in local churches each weekend. He still continued his work as an actor and landed roles in projects like Perry Mason, Leave It to Beaver, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Murder, She Wrote, The Munsters and a number of Westerns.
He told American Profile, “I couldn’t go into a church and share my faith and be in a movie downtown that people in the church wouldn’t see because of the subject matter or language.”
Along with preaching his faith in his later years, he worked as a farmer on his family’s farm.
In 1997, he was the recipient of Mississippi’s “Wildlife Farmer of the Year” award.
The actor’s last on-screen appearance came in 2014, playing Tom in Campin’ Buddies. Lester was the last surviving member of the Green Acres family.