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Peter Palmer (1931–2021), star of “Li’l Abner”

by Linnea Crowther

Peter Palmer was an actor who starred in the title role of “Li’l Abner,” both on Broadway and in the 1959 movie adaptation.

From college football to Broadway

Palmer was a college football star at the University of Illinois before his acting career. A music major, he also sang the national anthem in his full football uniform before some games he played in. His team won a Rose Bowl and two Big Ten championships. After college, Palmer was drafted into the U.S. Army and served before beginning his acting career. He was cast in Broadway’s “Li’l Abner” in 1956, later winning a Theatre World Award for his performance in the hit musical. The Broadway show and subsequent movie adaptation became the highlight of his career. Later roles included Broadway performances in “Brigadoon” and “Lorelei” as well as recurring roles on TV’s “The Legend of Custer” and “The Kallikaks.” Palmer made guest appearances on TV shows such as “Emergency!” “Three’s Company,” “Dallas,” and “Charlie’s Angels.” His other movies include “Edward Scissorhands.”

Notable quote

“One of the most gratifying things that I get to do now is to travel around the country when High Schools are doing a production of Li’l Abner and I get to talk to the kids about what is the real high in what they do and what they want to do with their lives. Forget drugs. Being a pro is not for what you do, it is for what you don’t do. The play really is the thing. Having the gift to act and, when doing musicals, perform, as Sondheim says, ‘should be the real and only high.’” —from a 2005 interview for Broadway World

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Tributes to Peter Palmer

Full obituary: The Hollywood Reporter

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