David McCallum, who rose to fame as a teen heartthrob in the 1960s blockbuster series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and then played the eccentric medical examiner in the famous “NCIS” 40 years later, has died. He was 90.
McCallum died Monday of natural causes at New York Presbyterian Hospital, surrounded by family, CBS stated in a statement.
“David was a gifted actor and author, and beloved by many around the world. He led an incredible life, and his legacy will forever live on through his family and the countless hours on film and television that will never go away,” said a statement from CBS
McCallum, who was born in Scotland, had previously been in films such 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 U.N.C.L.E.” that made the blond actor with the Beatles-style hairstyle famous in the mid-1960s.
The success of the James Bond novels and films kicked off a chain reaction, with secret agents appearing on both big and small screens. According to Jon Heitland’s “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Book,” Bond creator Ian Fleming provided several ideas as “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was being developed.
The show, which premiered in 1964, starred Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, an agent in a covert, high-tech unit of crime fighters known as the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Despite the Cold War, the CIA featured a multinational personnel, including McCallum as Solo’s Russian sidekick, Illya Kuryakin.
McCallum noted that the role was initially minor, noting in a 1998 interview that “I’d never heard of the word’sidekick’ before.” The sitcom received negative reviews but soon gained popularity, particularly among teenage girls drawn to McCallum’s beautiful features and enigmatic, intelligent persona. Illya had become a full partner to Vaughn’s character by 1965, and both performers were swarmed during personal appearances.
The show ran until 1968. Vaughn and McCallum returned in 1983 for a nostalgic TV movie, “The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, in which the agents were coaxed out of retirement to save the world once more.
In 2003, McCallum returned to television in another series with an agency identified only by its initials – CBS’ “NCIS.” He portrayed Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard, a bookish pathologist for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, which investigates crimes involving the Navy or the Marine Corps. Mark Harmon portrayed the NCIS director.
Ducky, who wore spectacles and a bow tie and had a thing for gorgeous women, “looked a little silly, but it was great fun to do,” McCallum said. He, too, took the task seriously, spending time in the Los Angeles coroner’s office learning about autopsies.
Co-star Lauren Holly took to X to mourn: “You were the kindest man. Thank you for being you.” The previously announced 20th anniversary “NCIS” marathon on Monday night will now include an “in memoriam” card in remembrance of McCallum.
In 2007, when he was working on “NCIS”, McCallum told a reporter: “I’ve always felt the harder I work, the luckier I get. I believe in serendipitous things happening, but at the same time, dedicating yourself to what you do is the best way to get along in this life.”