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The age seems to lack full-blown heroes, but Tennessee’s Buford Pusser tried in his own inimitable fashion to fill the bill. Pusser did not like what he saw when he came home to rural McNairy County from the Marines in the early ’60s. He got himself elected sheriff and began a six-year crusade against moonshining, prostitution and gambling. Some opposed his methods, which occasionally bent the law in the course of upholding it, but none doubted his courage. He survived seven attempts on his life, including a 1967 ambush in which his wife was killed and half his face shot away. His fearlessness inspired the highly acclaimed film Walking Tall (TIME, May 21, 1973), in which Pusser, as played by look-alike Actor Joe Don Baker, wielded a big stick against wrongdoers with devastating effect. Last week Pusser, 36, died when his new sports car ran off Highway 64 near Selmer, Tenn. Ironically, hours before his death, he had signed a contract to meld art and life by playing himself in the movie sequel to Walking Tall.

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