The light in Taos is exceptional and something for which it is noted, but its glow sometimes emanates from something other than the sun. There are people who bring their own shining intensity to this small town and make it a brighter place for family, friends and the wider community. Such a person was the actor Robert Walker Jr., who died in Malibu, California, on Dec. 5, 2019.
"The best thing about Bobby was the lightness of his being and everyone who met him saw it in him. Now he's connected back to source energy; I can feel it," said his wife of 27 years, Dawn Walker. "He's dancing on starlight now."
In addition to his wife, Walker leaves behind seven children, five grandchildren, two former spouses and a vast network of friends both here in Taos and in California who are all mourning his passing.
"He may be one of the most beautiful souls you'd ever come across in your lifetime. My love goes out to his beautiful wife, Dawn, and [his children]. My love goes out to [Taos artist] Jim Wagner, who was his very best of friends. My love goes out to everyone that knew him, especially to his family and dear friends," Trudy Healy posted on Facebook. Her comments were on behalf of her husband, Ed, and their 35-year long friendship with Walker.
Walker died the day before he and Dawn were scheduled to travel from Malibu to Taos for a holiday visit, expecting to join his first wife, Ellie Wood Walker, daughter Michelle McIntosh, son David Walker (all of whom live in Taos), along with other family members and friends.
"I spoke with him the day before he died," Jim Wagner said, "and we talked about seeing one another soon. Whenever we were together I felt that everything was OK. It's such a loss to get over. Who am I going to rob banks with now?" He laughed.
The laughter is as much a part of Walker's legacy as the tears that mark his passing. "That's who he was," said Dawn Walker. "A dear friend I spoke with after he died said, 'What would Bobby do - what would Bobby say? I think he'd laugh.' And I think she's right.
"He'll be missed, not just because of his fame," continued Dawn, "but because he was a very present person and had an affinity for people with a certain sensibility, but despite his lightness he was no lightweight. In addition to being a great dad to his children he was a wonderful son and brother, an accomplished photographer, a master of tai chi, a drummer, a gallery owner."
Ellie Walker agreed. "There was something magical about him. We spent our youth together and though we got divorced, our relationship over the years was always loving. He had a dear heart."
The actor was born April 15, 1940, in Jamaica, Queens, New York, to parents Robert Walker Sr., and Jennifer Jones, both on the cusp of stardom in the golden Hollywood years. Walker Sr., who died at age 32, was best known for the charming psychopath he portrayed in the 1951 Alfred Hitchcock classic, "Strangers on a Train." Jones had already won an Academy Award as Best Actress for her work in the 1943 drama, "The Song of Bernadette," and continued with a burgeoning career under the tutelage of famed director David O. Selznick, who became her second husband.
Destined to follow in his parents' footsteps, Walker had the title role in 1964's "Ensign Pulver," starring alongside Burl Ives and Walter Matthau, and was awarded that year's Golden Globe award for New Star of the Year. He went on to star in "Young Billy Young," "The War Dragon" and a slew of television appearances, including 1966's premier season of "Star Trek," in which he played Charlie Evans in one of the series' most memorable episodes titled "Charlie X."
Locally, though, Walker may be best remembered for one of his smallest film appearances, but one which is near and dear to Taoseños - in the 1969 watershed counterculture movie "Easy Rider," directed by Dennis Hopper, who would go on to become a Taos resident. Scenes were filmed in El Prado, the Manby Hot Springs and in the Historic Taos County Courthouse on Taos Plaza. Hopper died in 2010 and is buried in Taos.
"Because of our friendship with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, we were both given bit parts in the commune scene, which was filmed in California but was actually a reconstruction of the New Buffalo Commune in Arroyo Hondo, who wanted their privacy protected," Ellie Walker said. Walker played Jack, who performed tai chi in the sequence, and Ellie is noted in the credits as Mime No. 3, who sported a memorable hat and sang "Do Your Ears Hang Low."
"I have such vivid recollections of this time in my parents' lives," said McIntosh, who owns Michelle's of Taos, a women's fair trade clothing, jewelry and goods boutique on Paseo del Pueblo Norte. "I remember those scenes and all of us kids -- including my brothers, Mara [Hopper] and Bridget [Fonda] -- running around. It was a wild and amazing childhood."
The last several years were particularly poignant for McIntosh, who bonded more closely with her father over his love of photography and her deepening interest in the art. "As part of my dad and Dawn's visit here, he was going to see my first show, hanging at the Farmhouse [Café and Bakery]," she said, sadly. "He left us too soon, but he left us elegantly."
In addition to McIntosh and David Walker, siblings include Charlie Walker, Jordan Walker, Colette Walker Pierce, Henry Walker and Emily Walker.
For a network of stepfamilies, their closeness is striking. "I may have had him in a bigger dose and at a better time in his life, but we all shared him and his love," Dawn said. "Great hearts are always open to more love. Bob's great heart touched so many, he will be greatly missed but his love will be with us always," she wrote.
Walker's passing was noted at this year's Golden Globe award ceremony, which aired on Jan. 5.