Remembering Raymond Burr on 30th Anniversary of ‘Perry Mason’ Star’s Death

Raymond Burr as Perry Mason

When Raymond Burr passed away at age 76 on September 12, 1993, he was in the midst of a career resurgence. The Emmy-winning Perry Mason star who ruled the courtroom with style and smarts from 1957 to 1966 was once again playing novelist Erle Stanley Gardner’s brilliant, benevolent defense attorney in a series of TV movies with original costar Barbara Hale. He’d even reunited with the gang from his 1967-75 police drama Ironside for a telefilm that year.

Thirty years after the charismatic actor’s death from cancer, and more than 65 years after the show’s premiere, Perry Mason remains a fixture on nostalgia channels like MeTV and FETV, and streaming services such as Paramount+ and Freevee. Streamer Pluto TV even hosts a channel that plays the series round the clock.

Burr is so identified with that iconic role that it can be disarming to see him out of character, as in these clips, which feature the actor as himself, in a comedic take on Mason and as a prosecutor familiar to Mason fans.

Burr’s screen tests for Burger

Producers originally saw Burr as Mason’s tenacious but perpetually defeated courtroom antagonist, District Attorney Hamilton Burger. It’s not surprising, given that the actor was so effective as the prosecutor who tried Montgomery Clift in the 1951 film A Place in the Sun. The role would ultimately go to William Talman, but you can see his screen test for Burger and imagine what might have been. How odd to hear him say, “Good afternoon, Mr. Mason.”

Mason defends Jack Benny

Over the years Burr showed his silly side on numerous variety shows: Flip Wilson’s, Dean Martin’s and Donny & Marie’s. He also made a few appearances on comedian Jack Benny’s programs, including this one from 1961 where, in a dream sequence, Mason defends Jack for murdering a noisy rooster.

Perry Mason plays charades

In 1963, Burr and his Mason costars — Hale, Talman and William Hopper — got all decked out to play charades on game show Stump the Stars. Their opponents: a team that included Beverly Garland and future Wild Wild West star Ross Martin. Spoiler alert: Burr isn’t as effective at charades as Mason is at winning a case.

Viewers get a peek inside his California home

Burr kept a menagerie of animals on his Malibu estate, but in this 1960 interview from CBS show Person to Person he shows off some stunning antiques to host Charles Collingwood, including a large globe from the 19th century, and discusses his real-life interest in the legal profession and concerns about the future: “I think very shortly we’re going to be faced with decisions in which we have only one way or the other to go. Either to destroy our civilization as we see it and know it, or to solve the problems in the world by law and through law.”

Burr matches wits with Letterman

On a lighter note, on a 1985 Late Night With David Letterman appearance, Burr handles the host’s wisecracks with aplomb as the two spend most of the interview talking about the Fijian island the actor had owned and recently sold. Burr was there to promote the TV movie Perry Mason Returns, which saw him stepping back into the character’s courtroom for the first time in 19 years. It was the week’s top program when it aired in December and led to him playing Mason 25 more times.