Richard Basehart

Richard Basehart

Basehart in 1969
Born John Richard Basehart
(1914-08-31)August 31, 1914
Zanesville, Ohio, United States
Died September 17, 1984(1984-09-17) (aged 70)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Cause of death Stroke
Occupation Actor
Years active 194284
Spouse(s) Stephanie Klein (m. 1940–50)
Valentina Cortese (m. 1951–60)
Diana Lotery (m. 1962–84) his death
Children Jackie Basehart

John Richard Basehart (August 31, 1914  September 17, 1984) was an American actor. He starred as Admiral Harriman Nelson in the television science fiction-drama Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964–68). He also prominently portrayed Wilton Knight in the cult series Knight Rider (1982–86).

Basehart was equally active in cinema, receiving National Board of Review Awards for his performances in Fourteen Hours (1951) and Moby Dick (1956). He was further nominated for a BAFTA Award for his role in Time Limit (1957), the directorial debut of Karl Malden.


One of his most notable film roles was the acrobat known as "the Fool" in the acclaimed Italian film La Strada (1954), directed by Federico Fellini. He also appeared as the killer in the film noir classic He Walked by Night (1948), as a psychotic member of the Hatfield clan in Roseanna McCoy (1949), as Ishmael in Moby Dick (1956), and in the drama Decision Before Dawn (1951). He was married to Italian Academy Award-nominated actress Valentina Cortese, with whom he had one son, the actor Jackie Basehart. They divorced in 1960. Cortese and Basehart also costarred in Robert Wise's The House on Telegraph Hill (1951).

From 1964 to 1968, Basehart played the lead role, Admiral Harriman Nelson, on Irwin Allen's first foray into science-fiction television, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Although Basehart started his career as a film actor, he reached a larger audience with his role in this series.

Basehart was noted for his deep, distinctive voice and narrated a wide range of television and movie projects. In 1964, he narrated the David Wolper documentary about the Kennedy assassination, Four Days in November. In 1980, Basehart narrated the mini-series written by Peter Arnett called Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War that covered Vietnam and its battles from the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945 to the final American embassy evacuation on April 30, 1975. He appeared in the pilot episode of the television series Knight Rider as billionaire Wilton Knight. He is the narrator at the beginning of the show's credits.

Basehart took the lead role in the 1962 film Hitler. In 1971, he played "Captain Sligo", a comical Irishman with a pet buffalo who negotiates a flawed but legal cattle purchase and unconventionally courts a widow with two children, played by Salome Jens, in CBS's western series, Gunsmoke, with James Arness. He appeared in "Probe 7, Over and Out", an episode of The Twilight Zone, Hawaii Five-O, and as Hannibal Applewood, an abusive schoolteacher in Little House on the Prairie in 1976.

In 1972, he appeared in the Columbo episode "Dagger of the Mind' in which he and Honor Blackman played a husband-and-wife theatrical team who were loose parodies of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. In the feature realm, he played a supporting role as a doctor in Rage (1972), a theatrical feature starring and directed by George C. Scott. He made a few TV movies including Sole Survivor (1970) and The Birdmen (1971). Both were based on true stories during World War II. In 1979, he appeared as a Russian diplomat with Peter Sellers in Being There.

Personal life

Richard Basehart's grave

Basehart was married three times. After the death of his first wife Stephanie Klein, he wed Italian actress Valentina Cortese (whose name was spelled Cortesa in American films), with whom he had a child, Jack Basehart. After their divorce, Basehart married Diana Lotery, with whom he founded the charity Actors and Others for Animals. The charity was created after Basehart saw a small dog get thrown from a fast-moving vehicle on a Los Angeles freeway. He was reportedly so emotionally moved by the tragedy that he started the nonprofit organization.


Basehart died at age 70 following a series of strokes. One month before his death, Basehart was an announcer for the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. He is buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Partial filmography


Year Award Category Title Result Ref
1951 National Board of Review Awards Best Actor Fourteen Hours Won [1]
1956 Best Supporting Actor Moby Dick [2]
1958 BAFTA Awards Best Foreign Actor Time Limit Nominated [3]


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