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Throwback Thursday: Slim Pickens

by Matt Naber | Sep 13, 2018

Slim Pickens was born Louis Bert Lindley Jr. in 1919 in Kingsburg, Calif., and began entering rodeos at age 14, much to the displeasure of his father. 

The young cowboy would sign up with a different name at each rodeo. One day, he asked “the feller in charge of the rodeo” to give him a good name, and the man said, “Kid, why don’t you sign up as Slim Pickens, ‘cause that’s what it’s gonna be!” The nickname stuck.

He joined the Cowboys’ Turtle Association as a roughstock contestant, but life changed dramatically one day when the clown was a no-show and Pickens volunteered to fill the spot. A star was born. 

He doubled as a bullfighter, where he’s credited with bringing a measure of style and sophistication to the arena. He dressed in the colorful silks of an authentic Spanish/Mexican torero and worked the bulls with a cape, Latin-style.

In 1950, he was spotted by a movie producer while working a rodeo and soon appeared in Rocky Mountain, starring Errol Flynn. He didn’t quit rodeo immediately, but Hollywood paychecks and avoiding injury inflicted by 2,000-pound bulls was a combination too appealing to ignore.

Pickens appeared in hundreds of movies and television shows. His big break came in the 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove – as Maj. T.J. “King” Kong, a B-52 commander who famously rode a hydrogen bomb headed for Moscow in the final scene while waving his cowboy hat. 

Pickens, who was soon in greater demand for movie and TV spots, said, “The dressing rooms and the checks all started gettin’ bigger.” In 1974, he played Taggart, perhaps his best-known role, in the cult classic Blazing Saddles.

Pickens and his wife, Margaret, had three children. They owned a ranch near the gold-mining town of Columbia, Calif. He also had a ranch near Pinedale, Wyo., where he loved to hunt.

Pickens died in 1983 and was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2005.

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