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, according to 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 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 remarked 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.” was also 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.
Vaughn remained active in movies, usually in character roles. Among his films: “The Venetian Affair,” ”The Bridge at Remagen,” ”Julius Caesar” (the 1970 British version starring Charlton Heston), “The Towering Inferno,” ”S.O.B.,” ”Superman III” and “Delta Force.”
Robert Francis Vaughn was born into a theatrical family Nov. 22, 1932, in New York City. His father was a radio actor, his mother performed on Broadway and his grandparents acted in theater.
His parents divorced when he was only 6 months old, however, and he was sent to live with his grandparents in Minneapolis, where he said his childhood was miserable. “I cried all the time and I was always getting beat up.”
After his grandparents died, Vaughn moved to Los Angeles. Spotted in a college play, he was signed to a contract with Burt Lancaster’s company but was soon drafted into the Army. After his discharge in 1957, he made his first movie, “No Time to Be Young.”
Long among Hollywood’s most eligible bachelors, Vaughn married actress Linda Staab in 1974.
Vaughn is survived by his wife, Linda Staab Vaughn, their son Cassidy and daughter Caitlin.