Christopher Mayer (pictured, far left), best known for his 19 episode-long stint as Vance Duke in the 1982-83 season of Dukes of Hazzard, passed away on July 23 in Sherman Oaks at age 57.
During his time on the popular sitcom, Mayer was joined onscreen by Byron Cherry, who played his brother, Coy Duke. The two men were brought onto the show when contract disputes with the show’s main leading men, John Schneider and Tom Wopat, forced CBS to scramble to keep Dukes on the air. The network cast the two men quickly and explained that Schneider and Wopat’s characters had joined the NASCAR circuit. Audiences didn’t take kindly to the new characters, and when ratings sagged and contract disputes were solved, Cherry and Mayer were quickly written off the program.
But their story didn’t end with their stints on Dukes of Hazzard. The men remained close friends, often did press with one another, and helped each other at some of their lowest moments in life. EW spoke with Byron Cherry about his buddy Christopher Mayer, the ups and downs of their relationship, and why the actor will be sorely missed.
“That was my best friend, like a brother, you know?” says Cherry. “That was like my own son dying, almost. We had some times there — six years I couldn’t find him, couldn’t track him down. I think he was just really feeling down and hurt, and I just couldn’t find him. I had a church looking for him, everybody looking for him, and finally he surfaced in Hollywood. Someone called me and said, ‘Byron, I found Chris Mayer!’ This is like four months ago.” Cherry vaguely describes Mayer as having been in a dark place during this six-year period. When they recently reunited, “I made him promise me that he would straighten up a little bit,” says Cherry. “I think he was just closed in that little apartment with nowhere to go.”
“Lately, we just totally bonded,” Cherry continues. “He was just incredible, a great, great person. Very spiritual — he always talked about the Bible. He was like the first person, when my son died in a car wreck — my firstborn son, Byron Cherry Jr, he’d just turned 20 — [Mayer] was the first person I called because I knew he could pull me out of it. He was very positive, upbeat, lifting, and genuine person. He might have drank a little too much or this or that — I don’t know, but we’d have a few beers together!
“He was just a good-hearted guy, and my kids loved him. I had to tell my 10-year-old son and my five-year-old [about the death] because he was throwing them up in the air a couple weeks ago at my house, and joking with them, and telling stories, and making everybody laugh. He was a comic, and a very, very bright guy.”
According to Cherry, around two months ago, Mayer was diagnosed with two aneurisms in his brain, which were both “flushed out” while at the hospital. “He died in his sleep,” Cherry contends. “I think he definitely died of natural causes. [After the brain aneurisms], the doctor said, ‘You’re going to live for one day,’ and Chris said, ‘Byron, I hope I wake up tomorrow!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I do too!’” Cherry also says Mayer “had a bad shoulder, and he had hip surgery, and I think he got on steroids for a while, and it really didn’t help him.” The final cause of death is unknown at this time.
“You try to say the best things you can to help one of your best friends in life,” says Cherry. “I mean, I’ve known the guy more than half my life.” Cherry’s friendship indeed began during the months of auditions he and Meyer went through for Dukes of Hazzard; at one point, Cherry was convinced he would not get the part. “[After a few months] Warner Bros. met with me,” he says. “I thought they were going to tell me, ‘It’s time to go home!’ and send me home. They asked me who I really wanted to work with, and I said, ‘Chris Mayer [as] Vance Duke.’ I said, ‘We work together, we party together, we train together, we hang out together and we’ve just become great friends.’ The next morning, we come in, and there’s champagne on the table. I go, ‘Why is all this champagne on the table? What’s going on?’ and they say, ‘You got the job!’ I said, ‘Well, I can’t do it by myself!’ and somebody gives me headlock, and I turn around and it’s Chris Mayer! I say, ‘What the hell are you doing here?!’ He goes, ‘Oh yeah, I’m on the show!’ We’re jumping, hugging, jumping up and down, champagne going everywhere. I’m going, ‘Oh my god, I thought we were going home!’”