‘John Wayne: Cowboys & Demons’ Explores Screen Legend’s Tormented Life

John Wayne, Rio Bravo, 1959, Cowboys & Demons special on Reelz
© Everett Collection

John Wayne was a legendary actor and an embodiment of America itself. He is the focus of Reelz’ new TV special John Wayne: Cowboys & Demons airing Sunday, March 26 at 9pmET/6pmPT.

Wayne also spent much of his life quietly tormented desperately trying to measure up to the towering Hollywood persona he had crafted. While he played men who always do the right thing on camera —the self-tortured Civil War vet Ethan Edwards in The Searchers, the stalwart Sheriff John T. Chance in Rio Bravo or the craggy one-eyed U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn in True Grit — his real life is far more complicated.

With a storied career spanning nearly five decades in the movie business Wayne experiences Hollywood’s lowest lows and highest highs from box office bombs to winning an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for True Grit.

TRUE GRIT, key art, John Wayne, Kim Darby, 1969

But the bigger Wayne became on screen the more he grapples with feeling like an imposter. Through all of the emotional and identity turmoil Wayne uses his experiences to build a heroic character that inspired himself and entire generations of audiences.

Sharing their personal stories of Wayne are The Shootist costar Ron Howard, commentator Dennis Miller, director Peter Bogdanovich, biographer Scotty Eyman and his son Ethan Wayne who shares his favorite memories of his father as well as stories of working with him on the movie Big Jake.

Why He Rates As One of the Best: The Duke is the gold standard. The era’s quintessential cowboy hero developed a walk, a talk and a style that could be imitated but never duplicated. Got that, pilgrim?

Best Tough Talk: “You look like the vermin-ridden son of a b@#$% you are.” — Wayne’s Wil Andersen said to Bruce Derns’ vile Asa Watts in The Cowboys. He’s not wrong.

Fun Fact: Wayne made more than 60 B-movies over eight years before John Ford cast him in 1939’s Stagecoach, and the rest is history.

John Wayne: Cowboys & Demons airs on REELZ Sunday, March 26 at 9pmET/6pmPT.

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