Robert Vaughn, suave ‘Man from UNCLE’ star, dies at 83
NEW YORK >> Robert Vaughn, the debonair, Oscar-nominated actor whose many film roles were eclipsed by his hugely popular turn in television’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” has died. He was 83.
Vaughn died Friday morning after a brief battle with acute leukemia, said his manager, Matthew Sullivan.
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was an immediate hit, particularly with young people, when it debuted on NBC in 1964. It was part of an avalanche of secret agent shows (“I Spy,” ‘’Mission: Impossible,” ‘’Secret Agent”), spoofs (“Get Smart”), books (“The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”) and even songs (“Secret Agent Man”) inspired by the James Bond films.
Vaughn’s urbane superspy Napoleon Solo teamed with Scottish actor David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin, a soft-spoken, Russian-born agent.
The pair, who had put aside Cold War differences for a greater good, worked together each week for the mysterious U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement) in combatting the international crime syndicate THRUSH.
“Girls age 9 to 12 liked David McCallum because he was so sweet,” Vaughn said in a 2005 interview in England. “But the old ladies and the 13- to 16-year-olds liked me because I was so detached.”
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” also was a big hit abroad, particularly in McCallum’s native Great Britain.
The show aired until early 1968, when sagging ratings brought it to an end. In his “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book,” Jon Heitland blamed its demise on a shift from straight adventure to more comic plots in the show’s third season that turned off many viewers, as well as time slot changes.
Vaughn and McCallum reunited in 1983 for a TV movie, “The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in which the super spies were lured out of retirement to save the world once more.
McCallum has found stardom anew in his 14th season playing Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on the hit CBS drama “NCIS”.
He said he was “utterly devastated” after learning of Vaughn’s death.
“Robert and I worked together for many years and losing him is like losing a part of me,” McCallum said in a written statement.
In recent years, Vaughn had starred for eight seasons on the British crimecaper series “Hustle,” playing Albert Stroller, the lone Yank in a band of Londonbased con artists. “Hustle” also aired in the U.S.
“I imagined that Napoleon Solo had retired from U.N.C.L.E., whatever U.N.C.L.E. was,” Vaughn recalled in 2006. “What could he do now to use his talents and to supplement his government pension? I imagined Stroller as Napoleon Solo, The Later Years.”
Before “U.N.C.L.E.” Vaughn made his mark in movies, earning an Oscar nomination in 1959 for his supporting role in “The Young Philadelphians,” in which he played a wounded war veteran accused of murder.
The following year, he turned in a memorable performance as a gunfighter who had lost his nerve in “The Magnificent Seven.”
Making that movie, Vaughn recalled in 2005, had presented the cast with a vexing problem: no script.
“We had to improvise everything,” he said. “I had to go to the costume department myself and choose the black vest and the black hat.”
A liberal Democrat, Vaughn became passionately opposed to the Vietnam War while he was making “U.N.C.L.E.” and delivered anti-war speeches at colleges and other venues around the country. He also debated the war with conservative William F. Buckley on the latter’s TV talk show, “Firing Line.”
Vaughn became a friend of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and campaigned for him during his 1968 run for the presidency. When Kennedy was assassinated that year, Vaughn was so upset that he moved to England for five years.