A Friend, and American Icon has passed... More Importantly, My Best Friends Grandfather. / by Saarloosandsons

The death of actor-turned-vintner Fess Parker — a literal and figurative giant in the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara County —  brought words of praise from longtime friends, colleagues and fans.

Parker was best known for his 1950s portrayals of Davy Crockett for Walt Disney and of Daniel Boone in the 1960s.

He was widely recognized locally not only because he was

6 feet, 6 inches tall with a famous face, but because of his Fess Parker Winery and his two hotels, the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Spa in Los Olivos and the Fess Parker Doubletree Inn in Santa Barbara. 

Parker died peacefully at his home Thursday, according to family spokeswoman Sao Anash.

Longtime friend and fellow performer Ed Ames said in a telephone interview that he will miss Parker terribly, calling Parker the finest person he’d ever known.

Ames played Parker’s sidekick, the Native American Mingo, on “Daniel Boone.”

“His death was not unexpected, and we somehow managed get up to the valley every week to visit him in the last few months. I treasured every moment of our friendship,” Ames said.

“I lost a good friend and I feel very fortunate to have known him over the years. He was probably one of the best and finest friends I have ever had,” said Bill Powell of Los Olivos.

Powell was not only a close friend of Parker, but also was the pianist at the weekly Thursday night sing-alongs at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Spa.

On Parker’s Facebook page, Internet users posted hundreds of notes of condolences and well wishes to the family.

“My hero is gone but his legacy will live forever. My sincere condolences to Fess Parker family and to all who look up to him. My prayers go out to family,” wrote Arty Jacobs of Vista.

Ames recalled their time working together, and said Parker knew everyone by their first names and even their family members’ names.

“Fess had a bright hello for whomever it was, from the highest of producers to the man who made coffee. I’ve known a lot of people in my life, but I have never met a more esteemed person than him,” Ames said. 

Parker and his wife, Marcella, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in January. Family members including son Eli and daughter Ashley and his 11 grandchildren and a great-grandchild spent a great deal of time with Parker in his final months and weeks.

Former 3rd District Supervisor and fellow vintner Brooks Firestone said he and the whole valley will miss Parker because he was such a good neighbor.

“Fess was a very real person and much loved and respected. He will be missed,” Firestone said.

Jim Fiolek, longtime executive director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, praised Parker for his geniality and for the enthusiasm he brought to the county’s winemaking industry.

“I knew him before he was in the wine business here, and he asked a lot of questions about it. It wasn’t something he just up and did; he had a vision” about what he wanted his winery to be, Fiolek said.

Even though Parker came from a celebrity background, he had “no arrogance” about him, Fiolek explained. “When he shook your hand, he made you feel like one of the group.”

In 1989, when Parker and his son started the family business, Eli worked as assistant winemaker and then in 1995 took over as winemaker. In 1996, he took on the title of president of Fess Parker Winery, a position he still holds.

Parker’s daughter supervised the first tastings at the Foxen Canyon Road production facility, which has evolved into a world-class tasting and production facility.

Eli Parker also produces wine under his own label, Epiphany Cellars.

Keith Saarloos of Saarloos and Sons Family Wine Company called the Parker family “one of the valley’s first 100-percent family-owned and managed wineries. The family is still 100 percent behind the Fess Parker wine, still pushing for excellence,” he said.

“They are the Grand Cru of this valley,” he noted.

Saarloos and Sons’ tasting-room facility on Grand Avenue in Los Olivos was once owned by the Parker family for its day spa.

Winemakers posted Internet comments about Parker on Facebook throughout the day Thursday.

Morgan Clendenen, winemaker and owner of Cold Heaven Cellars in Buellton, wrote that Parker last year “told me a story from

40 years earlier and remembered every single person’s name. He had such an amazing memory. Rest in peace, sir.”

“His death is such a loss. Los Olivos lost Michael Jackson and Fess Parker in one year,” Clendenen said.

Funeral arrangements were pending, Anash said Thursday.

Parker is survived by his wife of 50 years, Marcella; children Eli and Ashley; 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Staff writers Pamela Dozois, Laurie Jervis and the Associated Press contributed to this report.