The thick, black moustache and dark, wavy hair made Robert Hoy one of the most distinctive faces in television Westerns when he played the ranch hand Joe Butler in The High Chapparal.
Joe was the faithful worker who would do anything to defend the Cannon clan and their desert ranch against rustlers and marauding Apaches or Mexicans in late 19th-century Arizona. Hoy portrayed Joe as a principled, emotional character whose black-and-white view of the world and morality led him, for instance, to leave a notorious thief and murderer in the desert to die when he was wounded. At the same time, he would risk his own life for Big John Cannon (Leif Erickson), the ranch owner's second wife, Victoria (Linda Cristal), brother-in-law Manolito (Henry Darrow) and sons Buck (Cameron Mitchell) and Billy Blue (Mark Slade).
Although The High Chapparal (1967-71) rode in the shadow of Bonanza, it was one of the most stylish Westerns on television and was given authenticity by being filmed mostly on location in Tucson, Arizona and – in a groundbreaking move – portrayed the Apaches with some humanity.
Hoy had already taken more than 50 screen roles before fame came to him as Joe – and he had the perfect credentials. Born in New York, in 1927, he worked on a dude ranch in the Catskill Mountains from the age of seven and, after serving in the US Marines at the end of the Second World War (1944-46), became a cowboy on a Nevada ranch.
When the 1950 film Ambush needed someone to jump horses over high fences and do saddle falls, Hoy began a lifelong career as a stunt performer – during which he doubled for stars such as Charles Bronson, Audie Murphy, Tyrone Power and Lee Marvin.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Hoy was frequently called on to work with horses in big- and small-screen Westerns. "All stunts have an element of danger," he said, "but horses have minds of their own and, in the two or three seconds of doing a stunt, things can go wrong".
Hoy regarded his most dangerous sequence as being when he doubled for Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones (1958), a film about two escaped convicts trying to elude capture. Chained to Ivan Dixon, who was standing in for Sidney Poitier, the pair weathered the rapids of California's Kern River, with rocks, fallen trees and fence posts hidden under the fast-moving current. "There was no element of control," Hoy recalled. "All we could do was try to stay alive, but it all looked great on film".
His long list of stunt credits included appearances in the films North by Northwest (1959), Spartacus (1960), It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), Beau Geste (1966) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), and on television in the Westerns Laramie (1959) and Bonanza (1961-65), The Streets of San Francisco (1972) and North and South (1985).
Hoy was in just as much demand as an actor and clocked up dozens of television roles, including in The Rifleman (three parts, 1960, 1963), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (three parts, 1965, 1966), Star Trek (1967) and The Little House on the Prairie (three parts, 1975, 1976, 1982).
At one time, Hoy was hardly off screen. He played Detective Howard, investigating murder and kidnap in Dallas (1982) and in Bonanza he took 12 acting roles (1960-71) in addition to his stunt work.
In 1961, he and Jack Williams formed the Stuntmen's Association of Motion Pictures. Later, Hoy worked as second-unit director and stunt co-ordinator on the television series Zorro (1990-93), filmed in Spain, and on the pilot for The Three Musketeers (1993), starring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt and Chris O'Donnell.
Less than two weeks before his death, the Motion Picture & Television Fund awarded Hoy the Golden Boot for his contribution to Western television and films in all three award categories – acting, stunt work and directing. His niece, Maria Kelly, was also a film and television stunt performer.
Robert Francis Hoy, actor and stunt performer: born New York City 3 April 1927; married Kiva (one son); died Northridge, California 8 February 2010