Actor David McCallum, who became a teen heartthrob in the hit series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in the 1960s and reached new audiences playing the beloved character of Dr. Donald (Ducky) Mallard in NCIS, has died at age 90.
McCallum died Monday of natural causes while surrounded by his family at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, according to a statement from CBS. He had just celebrated his 90th birthday less than a week ago on Sept. 19.
McCallum was the last original cast member on CBS’s NCIS, in which he played a bookish medical examiner for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service. The fan-favourite character of Ducky was introduced during the show’s launch in 2003 and appeared right through to the 20th season finale in May 2023.
In recent years, the actor had taken on a lighter shooting schedule for NCIS so he could spend time with his wife of 56 years, Katherine Carpenter, his children, grandchildren and cat, Nickie.
McCallum’s son Peter issued a statement on behalf of his family following the actor’s death, saying: “After returning from the hospital to their apartment, I asked my mother if she was OK before she went to sleep. Her answer was simply, ‘Yes. But I do wish we had had a 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 lives were, and that somehow, even at 90, Daddy never grew old.”
“He was the kindest, coolest, most patient and loving father,” he added. “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.”
Scottish-born McCallum became a household name in the mid-’60s playing agent Illya Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E, a TV series that rode the wave of spy thrillers that came out after the success of the James Bond films.
McCallum’s enigmatic, intellectual character on the show was particularly popular with teenage girls at the time — no doubt helped by the actor’s good looks and Beatlesque haircut. He and his co-star Robert Vaughn, who played main character Napoleon Solo, were often mobbed by young fans during personal appearances.
Initially, McCallum’s role as Kuryakin was a small one and he only spoke a handful of lines. But the popularity of his character soon elevated him to co-star status as a sidekick for Napoleon Solo.
MGM, which produced the show, said he attracted more fan mail than any other star in the studio’s celebrated history, although McCallum later insisted that “Vaughn got as much as I did.”
After The Man from U.N.C.L.E, McCallum remained busy, especially on TV, starring in the British series Colditz from 1972 to 1974 and Sapphire & Steel from 1979 to 1982. He also appeared as a guest on a number of popular American television shows, including Hart to Hart, Matlock, Murder, She Wrote, Law and Order and Sex and the City.
A new brush with fame awaited when McCallum was cast to NCIS as Ducky. He told New Zealand TV Guide it was his “best role ever.” He immersed himself in the part and even studied forensic medicine, attended autopsies at the L.A. coroner’s office and spoke at pathologists’ conventions.
NCIS is still one of the most viewed shows on television.
Executive producers Steven D. Binder and David North said McCallum “was a scholar and a gentleman, always gracious, a consummate professional, and never one to pass up a joke. From day one, it was an honour to work with him and he never let us down. He was, quite simply, a legend.”
Before he was an actor, McCallum came from a family of musicians and even studied the oboe at the Royal Academy of Music. He left soon after deciding he wasn’t good enough at music and instead joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Fresh off his U.N.C.L.E. fame, McCallum recorded four albums for Capitol Records with producer David Axelrod. His music career would produce the iconic song The Edge, which was famously sampled by Dr. Dre in The Next Episode.
McCallum was first married to actor Jill Ireland in 1957 after the pair met on the set of Robbery Under Arms. He later had a role in The Great Escape where he and his wife 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 is also survived by eight grandchildren: Julia McCallum, Luca de Sanctis, Iain de Sanctis, Stella McCallum, Gavin McCallum, George McCallum, Alessandro de Sanctis and Whit McCallum.
— With files from The Associated Press and Reuters
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