Robert Vaughn, who helped give the United States a television equivalent of James Bond in the popular 1960s series The Man from UNCLE, died Friday. He was 83.
He had been suffering from acute leukemia, according to The Guardian.
Vaughn starred as Napoleon Solo, an agent with the United Network Command for Law Enforcement, who helped keep the world safe from international bad guys in the Sam Rolfe-created series between 1964 and 1968. Rolfe created a number of other television classics throughout the years, including Have Gun-Will Travel, and a spin-off of the Vaughn series, The Girl from UNCLE.
Although actors from popular shows were too easily typecast (making it hard to get big names on television for decades), Vaughn always claimed to have the exact opposite happen to him once the show was cancelled. In fact, he told an interviewer that after playing Solo, he would find himself cast as the villain in many of his future projects, allowing him to stretch his acting legs.
Even as Vaughn aged, he never seemed to slow down. In fact, his last film – Gold Star – was released independently in select theaters just last month. He played the 90-year-old father to Vicky, played by the film’s writer and director Victoria Negri, as she struggles to make sense of what seems like an aimless life.
He also tallied up a guest spot in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit last year, after doing a quick run on the United Kingdom’s Coronation Street.
Vaughn was born Nov. 22, 1932 in New York, to a radio actor father and a stage actress mother.
Although he became a successful character actor in his early 20s, it wasn’t until he played Chester A. Gwynn in 1959’s The Young Philadelphians that he earned considerable prominence. There he played a Korean war veteran who had lost an arm, and was suddenly accused of murder.
That role earned Vaughn an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor, which would eventually be won by Hugh Griffith from Ben-Hur.
The next year, he’d land the role of Lee in John Sturges’ Magnificent Seven. In fact, of the Magnificent Seven, Vaughn was the last surviving cast member.
A recurring role on The Lieutenant would lead him to The Man from UNCLE, which he appeared in 105 episodes. When the series was rebooted into a film last year by Guy Ritchie, Vaughn’s Solo character was instead played by Henry Cavill.
He would spend the remainder of his career primarily back into the nomadic role of character actor, picking up roles in television series like Hawaii Five-O, Trapper John M.D., The Love Boat, and a recurring role in the 1980s series The A-Team. Vaughn also played one of the bad guys, Ross Webster, in 1983’s Superman III.
David McCallum, who played Illya Kuryakin in UNCLE, is the last major surviving cast member. Leo G. Carroll, who played Alexander Waverly, died in 1972.
Vaughn is survived by his wife Linda, son Cassidy and daughter Caitlin.
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