Actor and evangelist Tom Lester, best known for his role on the classic television sitcom Green Acres, has died. Variety reports that Lester died in Nashville on Monday (April 20) at the age of 81 after a battle with Parkinson's disease.

Lester's brother, Michael, confirmed the actor's death in a post to Facebook.

Lester was born on Sep. 23, 1938, in Jackson, Miss., and he grew up working on his grandfather’s farm. He served as a teacher in Oklahoma for several years after earning a degree in chemistry at the University of Mississippi and then decided to move to Hollywood to pursue an acting career, landing the role of farmhand Eb Dawson on Green Acres in 1965. According to Variety, Lester won the role because he was the only actor who auditioned who could milk a cow in real life.

Lester played the role of Dawson on Green Acres from 1965 until the show ended in 1971, and he formed a close friendship with series star Eddie Albert, whom he referred to as a surrogate father. Lester's other credits included TV appearances on Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, Little House on the Prairie and Knight Rider, as well as film roles in Benji and Gordy.

His brother states that Lester became a born-again Christian in 1948, and he traveled the country lecturing church groups and youth groups about Christianity. He was also an avid conservationist, and in 1997 he received Mississippi's Wildlife Farmer of the Year award for his work on his farm in Jasper County, Miss.

Lester died on Monday at the Nashville-area home of his fiancee and caretaker, Jackie Peters. He was the last surviving regular cast member of Green Acres. A graveside ceremony for close friends and family is set for Friday (April 24) in Laurel, Miss., with a celebration of life service to follow at a later date that has not yet been announced.

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