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Robert Conrad, TV star of The Wild Wild West, passes away at 84
Robert Conrad, the actor best known for portraying James T. West in The Wild Wild West television show in the 1960s, has died at the age of 84, People has confirmed.
“He lived a wonderfully long life and while the family is saddened by his passing, he will live forever in their hearts,” family spokesman Jeff Ballard said in a statement to the outlet.
Born in Chicago in March of 1935, the actor began working as a milkman while trying to become a nightclub singer. He moved to Los Angeles in the late '50s, scoring his first credited acting role as Lt. Robert "Tiger Bob" Kiley in 1958's Thundering Jets. From there he enjoyed a career that stretched across nearly 50 years.
In 1965, Conrad headlined The Wild West West, which ran on CBS for 104 episodes across four seasons. A reflection of the spy-fi boom of the '60s, the genre-bending show from creator Michael Garrison followed two of Ulysses S. Grant's Secret Service agents, James T. West (Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin), during their adventures in the Old West.
Armed with a private train (named the Wanderer) and all sorts of anachronistic gadgets (invented by Gordon, who was also a master of disguise), the duo fought a slew of baddies, the most famous being Michael Dunn's Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless.
Per Variety, The Wild Wild West came to an end in 1969 "because it was too violent." However, two made-for-TV movies— The Wild Wild West Revisited and More Wild Wild West—aired in 1979 and 1980. Conrad returned to play West (the character was a vet of the Civil War) in both.
The series was eventually adapted into the notorious 1999 blockbuster feature film from director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black, The Addams Family). Will Smith played Jim West, while Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh took up the roles of Artemus Gordon and Dr. Loveless, respectively.
Conrad wasn't particularly supportive of the film, telling the New York Post: “Will I go see the movie? Not in this lifetime!” According to him, his offer to help develop the project was rebuffed by Sonnenfeld. At the same time, he also had a standing feud with producer Jon Peters.
“The reviews put this thing in jeopardy,” he added during his chat with the Post. “But if it does do big numbers, one guy should take the credit: Will Smith.”
From the late '60s to the early '70s, Conrad appeared in four episodes of Mission: Impossible. His final onscreen role was in a genre project, the 2002 horror film Dead Above Ground.
By the time of his death, Conrad had (per Variety once again) "toplined at least one series in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s."
He is survived by his eight children and 18 grandchildren. His family requests that, instead of sending flowers, well-wishers donate to Wounded Warrior Project and The Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation.
A small service will be held on March 1, which would have been Conrad's 85th birthday.