LOS ANGELES — Actor David McCallum, who became a teen heartthrob in the hit series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in the 1960s and was the eccentric medical examiner in the popular “NCIS” 40 years later, has died. He was 90.
McCallum died Monday of natural causes surrounded by family at New York Presbyterian Hospital, CBS said 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.
Scottish-born McCallum had been doing well appearing in such films “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 Beatlesque haircut a household name in the mid-‘60s.
The show, inspired by the popularity of the James Bond books and films, debuted in 1964. It starred Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo, an agent in a secretive, high-tech squad of crime fighters whose initials stood for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. Despite the Cold War, the agency had an international staff, with McCallum as Illya Kuryakin, Solo’s Russian sidekick.
The role was relatively small at first, McCallum recalled, adding in a 1998 interview that “I’d never heard of the word ‘sidekick’ before.”
The show drew mixed reviews but eventually caught on, particularly with teenage girls attracted by McCallum’s good looks and enigmatic, intellectual character. By 1965, Illya was a full partner to Vaughn’s character and both stars were mobbed during personal appearances.
The series lasted until 1968. Vaughn and McCallum reunited in 1983 for a nostalgic TV movie, “The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” in which the agents were lured out of retirement to save the world once more.
McCallum returned to television in 2003 in another series with an agency known by its initials — CBS’ “NCIS.” He played Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard, a bookish pathologist for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, an agency handling crimes involving the Navy or the Marines. Mark Harmon played the NCIS boss.
McCallum said he thought Ducky, who sported glasses and a bow tie and had an eye for pretty women, “looked a little silly, but it was great fun to do.” He took the role seriously, too, spending time in the Los Angeles coroner’s office to gain insight into how autopsies are conducted.
Co-star Lauren Holly took to X, formerly Twitter, 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.
Largely based in the U.S. from the 1960s onward, McCallum was a longtime American citizen, telling The Associated Press in 2003 that “I have always loved the freedom of this country and everything it stands for. And I live here, and I like to vote here.”
In 1963, McCallum was part of the large cast of “The Great Escape” and he and his wife, actor Jill Ireland, became friendly with Charles Bronson, also in the film. Ireland eventually fell in love with Bronson and she and McCallum divorced in 1967. She married Bronson in 1968.
“It all worked out fine,” McCallum said in 2009, “because soon after that I got together with Katherine (Carpenter, a former model) and we’ve been very happily married for 42 years.”
McCallum had three sons from his first marriage, Paul, Jason and Valentine, and a son and daughter from his second, Peter and Sophie. Jason died of an overdose.
“He was a true Renaissance man — he was fascinated by science and culture and would turn those passions into knowledge. For example, he was capable of conducting a symphony orchestra and (if needed) could actually perform an autopsy, based on his decades-long studies for his role on NCIS,” Peter McCallum said in a statement.
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.”