Pete Duel (Peter Deuel)
February 24, 1940 - December 31, 1971
By Leslie Scott
In the last thirty years there have been many speculations as to why the
seemingly happy Peter Duel, co-star of the successful weekly series Alias
Smith and Jones, would have taken his own life in the early morning of
December 31, 1971.
Quoted just a month and a half before his death, Mr. Duel admitted he
sometimes envied the character he portrayed on television. "He is hunted by
every posse," said Duel, "yet he is still able to laugh. It's
something I love him for. I try to be like that, but with so many problems
besetting the world, from war to pollution and injustice, I find it difficult to
The one thing that does stand out, though, is that even after thirty years,
no one seems to have anything bad to say about this man who fought for the
environment, campaigned for Eugene McCarthy for president in 1968 and took in
stray dogs. After working in Hollywood, where rejection and criticism are the
norm, this alone says a lot about the man.
Success started to come to him almost as soon as he arrived in California. He
stared with Judy Carne in the 1966 sitcom, Love
on the Rooftop as well as played Gidget's
brother-in-law in Sally Field's hit series of the same name. He turned down
two more series before taking the part of "Hannibal Heyes/Joshua Smith" in Alias
Smith and Jones.
In 1971, Peter was living on Glen Green, a narrow
road in the hills of Hollywood. His house number was 2552.
Here is another angle.
On the evening of his death, Mr. Duel had been doing the one thing he had
been trying to quit ... drinking. In the past several years he'd had several
run-ins with the law over this problem, even having his licensed revoked. He had
made a sincere effort to give it up completely by joining AA and seeking
On the Thursday night he died, he and his girlfriend, Diane Rey had watched
his weekly show. Ms. Rey went off to bed in the house they shared while Mr. Duel
stayed up to watch the LA Lakers battle the Seattle Supersonics in basketball.
Sometime after midnight, he came into the bedroom, picked up his .38 revolver
and told Ms. Rey he "would see her later." Then he walked back into
the living room. Minutes later, Rey heard a shot and found Duel dead in the
The LAPD were called and took Ms. Rey downtown for questioning. From the
position of the body, as well as the angle of the wound, the authorities ruled
it a suicide.
No note was found and Mr. Duel had called his answering service that very
evening to schedule a wakeup call at 6:30 A.M. for an 8 o'clock studio call.
Though the coroner officially ruled that he had taken his own life, it was
unlikely premeditated. Mr. Duel had a .31 blood alcohol level. Said his
baby-sister, Pamela Duel-Hart, in a 1999 E-Entertainment "Mystery &
Scandals" show, "I know he wouldn't have done it if he hadn't
been drinking that night."
Universal was notified immediately and they gave the cast and crew half a day
off while they contacted Duel's replacement. Said the new "Hannibal Heyes"
Roger Davies, "I was skiing in Denver when I got a phone call asking me to
replace Duel. "When is he coming back?" Davis asked. "He's
not," he was told. "He shot himself and he's dead."
Years later, Mr. Duel's Smith and Jones co-star, Ben Murphy,
said of the incident "I was shocked and devastated. But I wouldn't say I
was all that surprised."
Two memorial services were held. One was held in Los Angeles, which was
attended by over a thousand fans and celebrities. It was held at the
Self-Realization Fellowship Temple. The second, a few days later, was held in
Mr. Duel's beloved hometown of Penfield, New York, where his sister sang and
one of Mr. Duel's early poems, Life, was read. Over two thousand
people attended this one as well.
Mr. Duel was buried under his family name, Deuel, in Oakwood Cemetery in
Penfield. He had shortened his name in Hollywood in the late sixties for
July 2003 Trivia from Findadeath.com friend Joe
Walker: Pete had a very high self-image and ate up all the huge attention
that the teen magazines of the day gave him. He desperately want to move
on to more juicy roles, and to promote himself, he had filed to run for a seat
on the Board of Directors for the Screen Actors Guild. He got a telegram
from them telling them he lost. He pinned the message to the wall, pulled
out his .38 revolver, and shot it. A week later, he killed himself with
the same gun.
By Peter Deuel
1956 (age 16)
When I see those pine trees oh so high
Stretching up to reach the sky,
I no longer wonder at the mystery--
God's creation of you and me.
Life, and death so often feared
Is by nature so beautifully cleared;
When one observes the leaves in fall
There is no solemn deathly pall
But a brightness and color that means but one thing
That life is restored, the following spring.
Death is not the end of all
Yet just the close of a glorious fall
To be followed as soon as one's faith has been sought
By that eternal spring which for us God has wrought.