In its 14 years on the air, Bonanza became an American institution — largely due to some early input from its star, Lorne Greene. “Every show began with one member of the family with a gun, pointing it at somebody, saying, ‘What are you doing on the Ponderosa?’” remembered Lorne, who debuted as patriarch Ben Cartwright in 1959. “Finally, I said to the producer, ‘If a stranger comes to the Ponderosa, why do we have to point a gun at him? Let’s be human beings, let’s not be antagonists.’” The producer listened, and the show evolved. Instead of just another western, Lorne said, “it became a story … about a four-letter word: love.”

That story reflected Lorne’s own values. Throughout his decades of stardom, the Canadian-born actor steered clear of Hollywood excess and put compassion — and love — above all else. In his charitable work, in choosing the roles he played, and in raising his children, twins Charles and Linda, 77, and Gillian, 54, Lorne remained true to his ideals — and left quite a legacy as a result. Years after his death, Linda recalled meeting some of her husband’s business associates and confessing that her dad was a TV star. “’Who?’ they wanted to know,” she wrote in her biography, My Father’s Voice. “‘Lorne Greene,’ I said, really not expecting them to remember who he was. ‘Wait a minute,’ one of them said. ‘I thought he was my father.’”

Lorne Greene Compassion Love

Indeed, Lorne’s charisma and likability made him everyone’s favorite TV dad. But it wasn’t just an act. Despite his success on shows like Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica — and the glamorous lifestyle it brought — Lorne’s children never felt left behind. Chuck fondly remembers visiting “the sets my dad worked on in Toronto and LA,” attending the NYC Thanksgiving Day Parade when Lorne was co-hosting with Betty White — and enjoying Thanksgiving dinner afterward with Walter Cronkite. But he maintains that his most cherished memories of Lorne are of the time the actor spent away from the cameras, “teaching me to read as a young child.”

Lorne’s down-to-earth nature was instilled in him by his parents, Daniel and Dora, who fled czarist Russia in search of a better life. “I was born behind my father’s shoe repair shop,” Lorne shared. “When I was 11 or 12, he put a little shoeshine stand in the corner of the store and I’d shine shoes for 15 cents.”

But life for the Greenes meant more than making a living. “[They] envisioned a new world … where people cared about people,” Linda explained. “This concern for the welfare of other human beings became very much a part of dad’s makeup.”

Throughout his life, Lorne was known for his kindness. And when he passed away in 1987 at the age of 72, nearly 400 people attended his funeral. “Lorne Greene was loved by all who knew him,” his daughter Gillian said at the time. “He was so giving and never asked for anything in return, except for love.”