David McCallum, the Scottish actor who played the enigmatic Russian-born American secret agent Illya Kuryakin Uncle’s husband and Chief Medical Examiner Donald “Ducky” Mallard NCIS, died on Monday. He was 90.
McCallum died of natural causes surrounded by family at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, a CBS spokesperson announced.
McCallum also starred opposite Joanna Lumley in the British science fiction series for four seasons from 1979-1982. Sapphire and steel (she was Sapphire, he was Steel) – a show that many see as a precursor to it The X files – and played a British POW in the critically acclaimed 1972-74 BBC drama Colditz.
McCallum was married to British actress Jill Ireland from May 1957 until she left him for muscular actor Charles Bronson ten years later. However, McCallum recovered very well and quickly married model Katherine Carpenter in 1967, and his wife of 56 years survives him.
The boyishly handsome actor spent all 20 seasons appearing in more than 450 episodes NCIS as Ducky, the bowtie-wearing autopsy expert with a psychology degree from the University of Edinburgh.
While studying for his role in the ratings-grabbing CBS drama about Navy crime fighters, McCallum learned how to perform actual autopsies and attended medical examiner conferences. He became such an expert in forensics that series creator Donald P. Bellisario deemed him expert enough to serve as a technical advisor on the investigation. NCIS.
“I’m known for being somewhat obsessive,” says the actor said in a 2010 interview with The Scot newspaper.
Said NCIS executive producers Steven D. Binder and David North said in a statement: “For more than twenty years, David McCallum endeared himself to audiences around the world as the wise, quirky and sometimes enigmatic Dr. Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard. But as much as his fans loved him, those who worked side by side with David loved him even more.
“He was a scholar and a gentleman, always friendly, a consummate professional, and never one to miss a joke. From day one it was an honor to work with him and he has never let us down. He was simply a legend. He was also family and will be greatly missed.”
Baby boomers are introduced to McCallum through his four-season stint as Kuryakin on NBC and MGM Television Uncle’s husband, broadcast from 1964-68. He received a pair of Emmy nominations for playing the intellectual, introverted spy.
“The whole idea was that you didn’t know anything about him: gay or straight or married, who knew?” McCallum told The New York Times in 1998. “I guess it was effective.”
About the Cold War-era series that spawned the spin-off Uncle’s girl and several films pieced together from episodes, McCallum teamed up with American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) as members of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.
The clandestine outfit, with its headquarters hidden in a New York City brownstone dry cleaner, fought the evil forces of THRUSH, believed to be an acronym for Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.
UNCLE reached No. 1 in the ratings and spawned a line of toys, and McCallum and Vaughn received tens of thousands of fan letters a month, far more than Clark Gable had ever received in his heyday at MGM.
McCallum’s mop-top haircut earned him the nickname “The Blonde Beatle.” He also looked great in a black turtleneck and was hard to go unnoticed.
“I was once rescued from Central Park by the mounted police,” he said The Scot. “When I went to Macy’s department store, the fans did $25,000 in damage, and they had to close down Herald Square to get me out. That’s pretty classic, but you just have to deal with it. And then the next one came, and you get dropped overnight, which is a relief.
David Keith McCallum Jr. was born in Glasgow on September 19, 1933. His mother, Dorothy, was a cellist and his father a violinist and orchestra leader. In 1936 the family moved to England when his father was hired to accompany the London Philharmonic.
His parents wanted him to pursue a career in music, and he learned to play the piano, oboe and English horn. But McCallum discovered early on that he actually wanted to be an actor.
‘I played the Little Prince in Shakespeare’s King John at one of those local things where people do skits and songs,” he said. “Mine was the little prince whose eyes were put out by this terrible man, and I apparently played it very well, because I got a standing ovation. I was no older than eight.
“And I said, ‘Hey, hey, hey, this is pretty cool!’ I don’t know if I thought it consciously, but I had found the place where I wanted to be: on a stage, with the lights and makeup and the people.”
In between serving in West Africa with the British Army, McCallum studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Joan Collins was a classmate) and performed with the Oxford Repertory Group. Director Clive Donner cast him as a rebellious Cockney The secret place (1957), and he signed with the Rank Organization.
McCallum met Ireland when both appeared Hell drivers (1957), and they married seven days later. They also worked together in Theft under arms (1957) and Jungle street girls (1960) and in five episodes of UNCLE
In the Steve McQueen classic The great escape (1963), McCallum portrayed Eric Ashley-Pitt, the naval officer nicknamed “Dispersal” for the way he devised a way to remove the dirt dug up from the prisoners’ escape tunnel.
On the set of the film in Germany, McCallum was called away to test for a role in The greatest story ever told. “Jill had just had a miscarriage, so I was afraid to leave her, but Charles Bronson said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her,'” McCallum recalled. ‘I didn’t know they had already started an affair. But it all worked out because I got together with Katherine shortly after.”
Ireland, who married Bronson in 1968, died of breast cancer in May 1990 at the age of 54.
McCallum was in the UNCLE pilot only a few minutes, but producers eventually made him an equal to Vaughn in the series.
“None of us, if we had a thousand ways to bet, would have figured out how we would have become rock stars as a result of a normal show,” Vaughn once said. “To this day I have no idea why this happened. The chemistry between the two of us at that moment may never have happened again.”
(In the Guy Ritchie film version of UNCLE (which was released in 2015 by Warner Bros., Armie Hammer played Kuryakin.)
McCallum also appeared on the big screen in the Titanic story A memorable night (1958), John Hustons Freud (1962), Sol Madrid (1968), Mosquito squadron (1969) and Cherry (1999).
On television, he had a sixth finger on each hand during a memorable 1963 episode of ABC The outer limits; played the role of Dr. Daniel Westin, a crime-fighting government agent, on NBC’s The invisible man, created by Harve Bennett and Steven Bochco; provided the voice of CAR on Disney Channel’s The replacements; and repeated on CBS’ The Education of Max Bickford.
The son of the leader of the London Philharmonic also recorded three albums of instrumental interpretations and originals for Capitol Records in the 1960s and subsequently sang on a 1996 album: Open channel Dtitled as a nod to UNCLE
His 1968 album, Music: A little more from mefeatured his instrumental ‘The Edge’, which was sampled by Dr. Dre and DJ Shadow and was featured in Edgar Wright’s Baby driver (2017).
And in 2016, McCallum published the novel Once a crooked manan international crime thriller that he had been writing on and off for fourteen years.
McCallum had three sons with Ireland: Paul; Jason, who died of an accidental drug overdose in 1989; and Val, a guitarist who has worked with Jackson Browne, among others – and two children, Peter and Sophie, with Carpenter.
Survivors also include grandchildren Julia, Luca, Iain, Stella, Gavin, George, Alessandro and Whit. A celebration of life service will be planned. Donations can be made to the Marine Corps Foundation.
“He was the kindest, coolest, most patient and loving father,” son Peter said in a statement. “He always put family before himself. He looked forward to every opportunity to connect with his grandchildren and had a unique bond with each of them. He and his youngest grandson, Whit, 9, could often be found in the corner of a room at family parties, having deep philosophical conversations.
“He was a true Renaissance man – he was fascinated by science and culture and would turn those passions into knowledge. For example, he was able to conduct a symphony orchestra and (if necessary) actually perform an autopsy, based on his decades of study for his role in NCIS.
“After returning to their apartment from the hospital, I asked my mother if everything was okay before she went to sleep. Her response was simply, “Yes. But I wish we had had the chance to grow old together.” She is 79 and Dad just turned 90. The honesty in that emotion shows how vibrant their beautiful relationship and daily life was, and that somehow, even at 90 years old, Dad never grew old.
The previously announced 20th anniversary NCIS marathon on Monday evening will now feature an “in memoriam” card in memory of McCallum.