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Eric Fleming was born Edward Heddy Jr. on July 4th 1925 in Santa Paula, California, an area renowned for its oil refineries. His father, an oil worker, mercilessly beat his only child, so severely on one occasion that he was unable to get up for two days. In 1934 aged eight, Eric held a revolver to his sleeping father's head, in an attempt to kill him. The revolver misfired, and Eric ran away from home. He made his way to Chicago, where he lived rough, begging for food and running errands for gangsters. He committed petty thefts and delivered liquor and drugs, before being hospitalized following a gang fight. As he was only eleven, the authorities returned him to his mother, who by this time had separated from his father (they were divorced in 1936). Eric returned to school, but dropped out during the depression years, and worked in various jobs including newsboy, miner, ambulance driver, waiter, stagehand and hod carrier.
At the age of 15/16, Eric joined the Merchant Marines, serving in the Pacific, before enrolling in the US Navy during WW2. He qualified as a Master Carpenter, serving as a SeaBee in a naval construction battalion. By the age of 17, he was working in a Seattle Foundry, when a 200 pound block of steel slipped from a hoist and shattered his face. As a result, he underwent extensive plastic surgery, involving at least four operations to rebuild his face.
After Eric's discharge, he took acting lessons, and went into theatre, appearing on stage in Chicago and Broadway, followed by a ten year stint in New York. He then diversified into film and TV, moving to Hollywood and appearing in several low-budget films, including "Fright", "Curse of The Undead" and the cult classic "Queen Of Outer Space", starring Zsa Zsa Gabor.
"Rawhide was a huge success, but by 1965, the CBS hierarchy had grown tired of Fleming's critical statements and openly voiced opinions, about the show's producers, writers and directors, and his repeated threats to quit the show. He was fired, along with other cast regulers. Eastwood took over the main starring role, but the ratings dropped, and the show was cancelled in 1966.
Eric signed up to do "High Jungle" in Peru. During the final stages of shooting, his dugout canoe overturned in The Huallaga River, and he was swept away. His body was found downstream about three days later. Eric Fleming died on September 28th 1966. He was only 41.
Prior to filming "High Jungle", Fleming had purchased a house in Hawaii with the intention of retiring from acting, and becoming a teacher.
He had planned to marry his partner Lynn Garber within two days of his death. His will left money to his mother, his cousin and a friend, but excluded his father from any bequest. His body was donated to the University of San Marcos in Lima for medical research, and he is buried in the grounds of the university.