RIP: Jeff Connors, son of Chuck Connors
It is with deep sadness that we report the untimely passing of a good man, Jeff Connors, one of four sons born to actor Chuck Connors. Standing 6 feet, 2 inches, Jeff loved to share stories about his father. He was a guest at the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. There, he shared stories about he and his brothers going on the set of where The Rifleman was being filmed (which is now CBS studios in North Hollywood) and watch as the episodes were being filmed. One thing Jeff really remembered was his dad saying: “Jeffrey, its all about the fans. If you don’t have your fans, you don’t have anything.” For that reason, he never rejected an offer to attend a convention or film festival and talk about Chuck Connors.
Among the highlights of the 2014 convention was Jeff’s insistence that fans hold one of the rifles used during filming of The Rifleman. Months before the big show, I talked to Jeff over the phone and he told me there were multiple rifles used on the set during the five years The Rifleman was being filmed. Jeff had two rifles; his brother had one. They belonged to Chuck Connors, who kept a few for himself after the program shut down after five seasons. After Chuck Connors passed away, the rifles were handed down to his boys. Jeff had a reproduction which he took to conventions. The purpose of the reproduction was because of the airport restrictions and Jeff’s fear that a self-obssessed fan might steal the memorabilia. Over the phone, weeks before the convention, I insisted that if there was any possible way one of the two original rifles could be delivered to Hunt Valley, I would go to the additional expense of making the arrangements. Jeff contacted the local airport and discovered that restrictions, while still tight regarding carry on, was relaxed provided a number of conditions were met. The gun had to be unloaded. Ammunition was not allowed on board the airplane. The gun had to be in a locked and secured carry case. The gun had to be shipped along with luggage (not as overhead carry on). And airport security had to ensure security procedures. There lied the rub, as Hamlet put it.
At LAX in California, the rifle was in a carry case and locked shut. Airport security placed two straps around the case and locked them. A tag was added to the case and a receipt handed to Mr. Connors. When Jeff arrived in BWI in Baltimore, he picked up the case along with his luggage. But when he asked airport security for a key to the two straps, there was a problem. None of the keys worked. “Do you remember who strapped and locked the case for you?” the security guard asked. “Yeah, some guy at LAX,” Jeff remarked. “Oh,” was the surprise response. “That means they have the keys to their own locks.” After twenty minutes of discussion with airport security, someone at the airport knew of a universal key that fit most airport locks and Jeff was handed his case back.
Jeff was also an accomplished singer/songwriter and had just finished a new CD when he attended the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. Jeff was singing and recording for about 22 years with his mentors: Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, Vern Gosdin, Hank Williams Sr.
During the weekend, Jeff and actor Johnny Crawford talked on stage about The Rifleman… and actor Chuck Connors who proved to be a mentor and surrogate father for Crawford. Anyone who took time to chat with Jeff during the weekend quickly discovered he was down-to-earth, possessed no ego, and displayed remarkable common sense which we all wish we could possess. Jeff was also proud to state he was clean sober after a few years of drinking. He told others in the hopes they would “seek guidance” when times were low… not from a bottle.
Jeff’s last interview was at the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, and his second-to-last public appearance for fans. He attended one convention since but there was no interview at that event. Looking on the bright side, Jeff is riding alongside his father in heaven. Jeff Connors, a wonderful example of how Chuck Connors raised his boys right with a kind hand, gentle speech and man you could look up to.