Man from U.N.C.L.E. star Robert Vaughn passes away

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Nov 17, 2016, 8:42 AM EST (Updated)

One of television's most suave superspies has slipped away into the night.

Robert Vaughn, whose career spanned seven decades and who is best remembered as Napoleon Solo in the 1960s TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., died on Friday (Nov. 11) of leukemia at the age of 83.

Vaughn's Solo and his Russian counterpart Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) fought the international terror organization T.H.R.U.S.H. over the course of four seasons on the NBC-TV show. The series was one of the most popular of the genre nicknamed "spy-fi," in which shows like The Avengers (the British duo, not the Marvel superhero team) and Mission: Impossible incorporated elements of science fiction into spy adventures. 

Several episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. were re-edited for release as feature films during the series' run, while Vaughn and McCallum reprised their roles in a 1983 TV movie reunion, The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair. A movie based on the series was released last year with Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Kuryakin.

Vaughn's vast film and TV career included a number of additional sci-fi credits. His earliest was a role in Roger Corman's Teenage Caveman (1958), while others included The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970), the voice of Proteus, the insane computer in Demon Seed (1977), Starship Invasions (1977), Virus (1980), Hangar 18 (1980) and Battle Beyond the Stars (1981). In 1983's Superman III, he played Ross Webster, the business magnate who blackmails low-level computer programmer Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) into helping him build a supercomputer to defeat the Man of Steel.

Born in New York City on Nov. 22, 1932, Vaughn seemed destined for show business: His father was a radio actor, while his mother performed in the theater. After attending college in Minnesota, he moved to Los Angeles to study acting and made his TV debut in 1955 on the NBC show Medic. His first film appearance came a year later with an uncredited turn in The Ten Commandments.

His breakthrough role on the big screen was in 1959's The Young Philadelphians, for which he was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe as best supporting actor. Other notable films in which Vaughn appeared include The Magnificent Seven (1960), Bullitt (1968), The Bridge at Remagen (1969), The Towering Inferno (1974) and S.O.B. (1981), while among his TV credits were Gunsmoke (1956), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1959), The Protectors (1972-1974), Columbo (1975), The A-Team (1986) and Law and Order (1997).

A politically active liberal Democrat, Vaughn was one of the first celebrities to speak out against the Vietnam War and in 1972 published Only Victims, a study of the McCarthy era's blacklisting of Hollywood actors.  

The urbane, eternally cool Vaughn is survived by his wife of 42 years, Linda Staab, and their two children.

(via Variety)