David McCallum, ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ & ‘NCIS’ Star, Dies @ 90

September 25, 2023

Less than a week after turning 90, veteran of TV, movies and the stage David McCallum — indelible for his work on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in the '60s — died Monday, September 25, 2023, of natural causes.

McCallum only escaped Illya by playing Ducky. (Images via CBS & NBC)

He died at New York Presbyterian Hospital, surrounded by his loved ones.

The most recent TV series on which he worked (for an incredible 20 years), NCIS, announced his passing on Twitter, writing, "We are deeply saddened by the passing of David McCallum and privileged that CBS was his home for so many years. 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. We will miss his warmth and endearing sense of humor that lit up any room or soundstage he stepped onto, as well as the brilliant stories he often shared from a life well-lived. Our hearts go out to his wife Katherine and his entire family, and all those who knew and loved David."

His longtime co-star Mark Harmon told Deadline, “David lived a great, full, long life.  I was in awe when I first met him and all of us on the show were honored to have toed a mark opposite him. My condolences go out to Katherine and his family.”

His former co-star Michael Weatherly tweeted, "David McCallum made every moment count, in life and on set. Let’s raise a jug and celebrate a funny fantastic authentic man. I’ve only got 3 autographs. Connery, Tony Bennett and McCallum. I felt the same way as Steve McQueen in this picture from The Great Escape: Wow! It’s David McCallum! No one did it better. We were lucky to have him bring us Ducky. Let’s send all the love in the world to his beautiful family. Rest In Peace David."

McCallum was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on September 19, 1933, into a musical family. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and made his acting debut in a production of King John in the 1940s.

A member of Actors' Equity since 1946, he made his radio debut in Whom the Gods Love, Die Young that year. His work in the theater alone would qualify him as a star, including as Emperor Joseph II in Amadeus on Broadway in 1999 and a 2000 performance as the star of Julius Caesar in Shakespeare in the Park in NYC.

His early films were Robbery Under Arms (1957) and A Night to Remember (1958), with his U.S. debut coming in Freud: The Secret Passion (1962). He was also in that year's Billy Budd, and played Dispersal in The Great Escape (1963) and Judas in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

Vaughn & McCallum were among TV's greatest duos. (Image via NBC)

Once he had relocated to the U.S., McCallum won the role of mercurial Russian spy Illya Kuryakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968) opposite Robert Vaughn (1932-2016). The iconic role garnered him two Emmy nominations.

People forget just how popular Illya made McCallum, who was reportedly swamped with fan mail that rivaled that of every great in MGM history. He was even the subject of the novelty hit "Lova Ya Illya" (1966).

He also played the part in the features The Spy with My Face (1965) and The Spy in the Green Hat (1967), on an episode of Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1966) and reprised the role in the 1983 telefilm Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.

"It's been 30 years," McCallum told The New York Times in 1998, "but I can't escape him. Illya Kuryakin is there 24 hours a day."

Cast as Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard — his self-professed favorite role — in 2003, he was a fixture of NCIS from then until this year. The show is expected to acknowledge McCallum's passing on-screen.

Additionally, he played Ducky on two episodes of JAG (2003), the video NCIS: Ducky's World (2007, in the NCIS video game (2011) and on two episodes of NCIS: New Orleans (2014 & 2016).

Aside from U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS, some of his many other notable TV credits include Perry Mason (1964), The Outer Limit (2 episodes, 1963 & 1964), Night Gallery (1971), Marcus Welby, M.D. (1972), The Six Million Dollar Man: Wine, Women and War (1973 telefilm), 26 episodes of Colditz (1972-1974), 13 episodes of The Invisible Man (1975-1976), 13 episodes of Kidnapped (1978), 34 episodes of Sapphire & Steel (1979-1982), Hart to Hart (1983), As the World Turns (1983), The A-Team (on which he appeared with Vaughn, 1986), Matlock (1987), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1988), Murder, She Wrote (2 episodes, 1989 & 1990), Father Dowling Mysteries (1990), 23 episodes of Trainer (1991-1992), SeaQuest 2032 (1993), Babylon 5 (1994), Law & Order (1997), The Outer Limits (1997) and Sex and the City (1999).

McCallum wrote the mystery Once a Crooked Man: A Novel in 2016. (Image via Facebook)

He did voice work on such projects as Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2009), six episodes of Ben 10: Omniverse (2013-2014) and Batman vs. Robin (2015).

McCallum's film career stretched from an uncredited bit part in 1957's Night Ambush to 1999's Cherry. Along with the other titled cited, he appeared in Sol Madrid (1968), Mosquito Squadron (1969), The Ravine (1969), The Man and the City (1971), The Kingfisher Caper (1975), Dogs (1977), King Solomon's Treasure (1979), The Watcher in the Woods (1980), Terminal Choice (1985), The Haunting of Morella (1990), Hear My Song (1991), Dirty Weekend (1993), Fatal Inheritance (1993) and Healer (1994), never matching the juicier roles he had in the medium prior to his time as Illya.

McCallum, who was married to actress Jill Ireland (1936-1990) from 1957-1967, was wed to model Katherine Carpenter almost ever since the divorce. He is survived by his wife and their two children, as well as by his three children with Ireland. He also counts six grandkids among his surviving family.

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