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Updated: November 12, 2023

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 ( 196468 ). He also prominently portrayed Wilton Knight in the series Knight Rider ( 198286 ).

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 ). From 1964-68, 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.

Basehart 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.

Basehart 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. He accepted 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, Basehart appeared in the Columbo episode "Dagger of the Mind' in which he and Honor Blackman played a husband-and-wife theatrical team who accidentally kill Sir Roger Haversham, the producer of their rendition of Macbeth.

Basehart played a supporting role as a doctor in the feature film Rage ( 1972 ), a theatrical feature starring and directed by George C. Scott. Basehart 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.

Basehart was born in Zanesville, Ohio, the son of Mae ( nee Wetherald ) and Harry T. Basehart. He was married three times. After the death of his first wife Stephanie Klein, he married Italian Academy Award-nominated actress Valentina Cortese, with whom he had one son, actor Jackie Basehart; the couple divorced in 1960. In 1962, he married his third wife, Diana Lotery, with whom he had two children and remained married until his death in 1984.

Basehart died in Los Angeles on September 17, 1984, following a series of strokes. He was 70 years old. His body was cremated, and the ashes interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

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