Fess Parker, a TV icon of the 1950s and '60s who later helped Santa Barbara raise its profile as a world-class wine region, has died. He was 85. Parker had been in failing health in recent months and was under hospice care at his home in the Santa Ynez Valley when he passed away this morning.
The Texas-born Parker first made his name during the dawn of the TV era playing Davy Crockett, serialized on the popular Disneyland show. Parker and the show became so popular in the mid-1950s that boys across America wore his trademark coonskin cap. Parker followed that in the 1960s with a successful run on TV's Daniel Boone.
By the late 1970s, Parker was focusing on real-estate investment in Santa Barbara and developed numerous projects over the years, many of them controversial with local groups. "He was one of those bigger-than-life people. He did what he wanted to and he stood his ground," said Frank Ostini, owner of the Hitching Post restaurant and wine label.
Dick Doré, co-owner of Foxen Winery, wore a coonskin cap as a child. "He has been a force in Santa Barbara for 20 years," Doré said. "He helped put Santa Barbara County on the map." Bob Linquist, owner and winemaker of Qupé, agreed. "He could reach the common man in a way that no one else here could. He had that Southern charm and was incredibly smart in a seemingly hokey way, like Colombo the TV detective."
The Fess Parker Doubletree Resort, opened in 1985, is a popular hotel on the downtown waterfront. In 1989, the Parker family began planting vineyards and today farms more than 300 acres. Making wine under the Fess Parker label, the family found particular success with Syrah, but also Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Parker and his wife, Marcella, marked their 50th wedding anniversary in January of this year. He had remained active up until a year ago when his health began to fail. Tim Snider, who is married to Parker's daughter, Ashley, is president of the winery and has been overseeing day-to-day operations.