Eric Fleming is best known today for his role on the CBS western series ‘Rawhide’ with Clint Eastwood. For 5 seasons, from 1959-65, he played trail boss Gil Favor on the hit series. When he left the show it was under somewhat of a cloud of questioning --- Did he leave to pursue a big screen career? Was he canned from the series because he appeared as the secondary lead in ‘The Glass Bottom Boat’ (1965) with Doris Day and Rod Taylor while still under contract to MGM and CBS? Was the real reason because he had been critical of the direction the scripts were taking on the series? Was it to “follow his impulse to travel, pain, sculpt, and act only periodically”? Accounts vary, but one thing is certain; if Fleming had remained with the series his tragic fate the following year would have been quite different.

Fleming had a troubled childhood. He grew up very poor. His father and mother divorced when he was 10 and he ran away from home 2 years later to live as a hobo. During this time he worked a series of odd jobs – he swept the floors at a whorehouse, he was in the Merchant Marines, worked as a miner, an ambulance driver, a carpenter, a soda jerk, a short order cook, a newsboy, etc. Eventually he joined the Seabees at the start of WWII. Sometime during this period he was lifting a 200 lb. steel counterweight on a dare from buddies and it fell directly on his face, requiring extensive plastic surgery and giving him his distinctive look which worked surprisingly well in Hollywood.

He started acting with some stage work and it seemed to suit him. Eventually he moved on to films and television. Prior to his work on ‘Rawhide’ 50s sci-fi fans were familiar with Eric Fleming from his work in several B movies of the era most notably - ‘The Queen of Outer Space’ (1958) a Cinemascope bit of schlock with Zsa Zsa Gabor as a Venusian with a Hungarian accent and an original story by Ben Hecht (!!). He was second billed as Captain Barnet Merrit in ‘Conquest of Space’ (1955). He played a psychiatrist in the Allied Artists film ‘Fright’ (1957), and also starred in ‘Curse of the Undead’ (1959) – (aka ‘Mark of the West’) a unique Wild West vampire flick costarring Michael Pate. Despite his fame he never was part of the movie/TV actor social scene and even after he gained fame continued to live quietly over a converted garage in the Hollywood Hills.

After leaving ‘Rawhide’ his next project was to be the pilot for a new series called ‘High Jungle’ for MGM. The series was set in the wilds of the 1850s and was to costar Anne Heywood. In August 1966 he arrived in Lima Peru to begin filming. He brought his fiancée Lynn Garber, along. The crew traveled to the dense jungles northeast of the Lima to the Tingo Maria area, one of the most inaccessible regions of the country. Conditions were horrible – the bugs and heat nearly unbearable.

On September 28th he was filming a scene of fording a river with a 30-foot canoe hollowed out from a tree trunk, which was no wider than a man. While riding the rapids of the treacherous Huallaga River with costar Nic Minardos, the boat capsized. A strong swimmer, Fleming headed for shore and nearly made it but was pulled back into the turbulent white rapids. His fiancée and a crew of 30 watched from the shore in absolute horror as his body was swept away. He was to be married just two days later.

His partially mutilated body was found four days later just downstream from the tragic accident. The body of the 41-year-old Eric Fleming was donated to science at The University of Peru in Lima.