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Television Ken Kercheval, beleaguered Cliff on ‘Dallas,’ dies at 83

Larry Hagman's J.R. Ewing, left, and Cliff Barnes, portrayed by Ken Kercheval, were perennial rivals on the hit series Dallas for almost two decades.

CBS

Ken Kercheval, who played perennial punching bag Cliff Barnes to Larry Hagman’s scheming oil baron J.R. Ewing on the hit TV series “Dallas,” has died. He was 83.

Kercheval died Sunday in the city of Clinton in his native Indiana, said Jeff Fisher, his agent. The cause of death was being kept private by family, Fisher said Wednesday.

He was in “Dallas” for its full run, from 1978 to 1991, and returned as oilman Cliff opposite Hagman for a revival of the prime-time drama that aired from 2012-14.

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He expressed fondness for his beleaguered character, also part of two TV ‘90s movies, in a 2012 interview with a “Dallas” fan website, The Dallas Decoder.

Cliff was a nice guy, but with brother-in-law J.R.’s constant battering he had to defend himself, Kercheval said. “If I did something that wasn’t quite right, it’s because I had to,” he added.

Kercheval was born in Wolcottville, Indiana, and raised in Clinton by his father, a physician, and his mother, a nurse. He studied at the University of Indiana and the University of the Pacific, according to profiles.

His early roles were on stage, with Broadway performances in musicals including “The Young Abe Lincoln” in 1961 and “The Apple Tree” and “Cabaret” in the late ‘60s.

Kercheval’s big-screen credits included “Pretty Poison” (1968), “The Seven-Ups” in 1973 and “Network” in 1976.

He made frequent guest appearances on TV series, stretching from “Naked City” and “The Defenders” in the 1960s to “ER” and “Diagnosis Murder” in the 1990s and 2000s. His last online credit is for the film “Surviving in L.A.”

In a first-person piece for People magazine in 1994, Kercheval detailed his arduous treatment for lung cancer and advocated that others quit smoking, as he was “99 per cent” successful in doing.

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Kercheval’s survivors include three children, Caleb, Liza and Madison, his agent said.

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