James Olson, ‘Andromeda Strain’ and ‘Rachel, Rachel’ Actor, Dies at 91

Olson was in dozens of ’70s TV hits like “Gunsmoke,” “Columbo,” “Kung Fu,” “Wonder Woman,” “Lou Grant,” “Battlestar Galactica” and “Little House on the Prairie”

james olson
James Olson on the set of 1968's "Rachel, Rachel" (Photo courtesy of the Olson family)

James Olson, a highly versatile stage and screen actor whose credits touched just about every 1970s television hit, has died. He was 91.

Olson died peacefully at his home in Malibu on April 28, The Malibu Times originally reported. His career began in the late 1950s, and though he loved the theater and appeared on Broadway, he’d soon become one of the TV industry’s busiest actors, with credits on nearly 100 shows, sometimes playing multiple and repeating characters.

His dizzying list of guest-starring turns included “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “Route 66,” “Columbo,” “Kung Fu,” “Wonder Woman,” “The Bionic Woman,” “Lou Grant,” “Maude,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Little House on the Prairie,” and “Murder, She Wrote,” truly just to name a few. From 1972-1979 he appeared five times on “Hawaii Five-O” – as five different characters.

Olson also had a healthy film career, co-starring opposite Joanne Woodward in the 1968 film “Rachel, Rachel,” which was nominated for Best Picture. He also had starring roles in “The Andromeda Strain” and “Ragtime.”

Olson was born in Evanston, Illinois, and graduated from Northwestern, where he first joined the theater. He is survived by two nieces, a nephew, and three grandnephews.