LOS ANGELES – Actor David McCallum, who became a teen heartthrob on the hit 1960s TV series “The Man From UNCLE” and 40 years later as an eccentric medical doctor on the hit “NCIS,” has died. He was 90 years old.
McCallum died of natural causes Monday at New York Presbyterian Hospital surrounded by his family, CBS said in a statement.
“David was a talented actor and writer and loved by many people around the world. “He lived an incredible life and his legacy will live on forever, never to be lost through his family and the countless hours he spent in film and television.”
Scottish-born McCallum was a good performer in such films as “A Night to Remember” (about the Titanic), “The Great Escape” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (as Judas). But it was “The Man From UNCLE” that made the blonde actor with the Beatles-style haircut a household name in the mid-60s.
The success of the James Bond books and movies set off a chain reaction as secret agents proliferated on both big and small screens. Indeed, according to Jon Heitland’s “The Man From UNCLE Book,” Bond creator Ian Fleming contributed some ideas while “The Man From UNCLE” was being developed.
The series, which premiered in 1964, starred Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, an agent in a covert, high-tech team of crime fighters whose initials stand for Joint Law Enforcement Command. Despite the Cold War, the agency had an international staff; McCallum starred as Illya Kuryakin, Solo’s Russian henchman.
McCallum recalled that the role was relatively small at first, adding in a 1998 interview: “I had never heard the word ‘sidekick’ before.”
The show received mixed reviews but eventually became a hit, especially with teenage girls who were attracted to McCallum’s good looks and enigmatic, intellectual character. By 1965, Illya was the full partner of Vaughn’s character, and both stars suffered harassment during personal appearances.
The series ran until 1968. Vaughn and McCallum reunited in 1983 for “The Return of the Man From UNCLE,” a nostalgic TV movie in which agents are brought out of retirement to save the world once again.
McCallum returned to television in 2003 with another series involving an agency known by his initials (CBS’s “NCIS”). A bookish pathologist with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, an agency that deals with crimes involving the Navy and Marine Corps, Dr. He played Donald “Ducky” Mallard. Mark Harmon played the boss of NCIS.
McCallum said he thought Ducky, who wore glasses, a bow tie, and was attracted to beautiful women, “looked a little silly, but it was a lot of fun to do.” He also took the role seriously, spending time at the Los Angeles coroner’s office to get a feel for how autopsies were performed.
The series gradually built an audience and eventually reached the top 10 TV series list. McCallum, who lives in New York, was staying in a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica while “NCIS” was in production.
McCallum’s work on “UNCLE” earned him two Emmy nominations, and he earned a third as an educator struggling with alcoholism in the 1969 Hallmark Hall of Fame drama “Teacher, Teacher.”
Bob Thomas, a longtime Associated Press journalist who died in 2014, was the lead author of this obituary.