Robert Vaughn, whose Napoleon Solo on NBC’s spy yarn The Man From U.N.C.L.E. set TV’s 1960s standard for suavity and crimebusting cool, died this morning after a brief battle with acute leukemia. He was 83. His manager Matthew Sullivan confirmed the news to Deadline.
“Mr. Vaughn passed away with his family around him,” Sullivan said.
Vaughn’s lengthy list of credits includes everything from an uncredited role in The Ten Commandments to his angry, shouting audience member on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, but he will no doubt be remembered for Napoleon Solo, television’s answer to James Bond. U.N.C.L.E. aired from 1964-68, and paired Vaughn’s elegant, dark-haired Solo with David McCallum’s blond Russian Illya Kuryakin, an early example of Cold War detente in the battle against global evildoers.
Although the series was not a huge, longrunning stateside hit — it finished in the primetime top 25 only once — it spawned a short-lived spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. starring Stephanie Powers and contributed mightily to the Secret Agent Man craze of the mid-late ’60s. It’s international popularity led to back-to-back of Golden Globe noms for Vaughn as Best TV Star in 1965-66.
Vaughn also had early roles in The Young Philadelphians (1959) — for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor – and played a gunman in The Magnificent Seven (1960), earning another Globe nom for Most Promising Newcomer.
More recently, Vaughn played con man Albert Stroller on British series Hustle (2004-12). During the first two months of 2012, he took on the role of Milton Fanshaw in Britain’s soap opera staple Coronation Street, wooing Stephanie Cole’s Sylvia Goodwin.
Although most closely associated with television, stretching back to appearances on such foundational series as Gunsmoke, Father Knows Best, Wagon Train, The Rifleman and The Dick Van Dyke Show, Vaughn boasted a solid résumé of feature film work — 1958’s Teenage Cave Man notwithstanding. In addition to The Young Philadelphians (1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), and Steve McQueen car-chase classic Bullitt (1968), Vaughn had memorable parts in such popular pictures as The Towering Inferno (1974), S.O.B. (1981), Superman III (1983) and, as the uncredited voice of Proteus IV, Demon Seed (1977).
Vaughn earned an supporting Emmy for 1977’s Washington: Behind Closed Doors and an Emmy nom for playing Woodrow Wilson in Backstairs at the White House (1979).
Perfectly willing to have some fun with his long-established image of charm and elegance, Vaughn made knowing appearances in cult fare like BASEketball (1998) and Pootie Tang (2001), not to mention his angry, ranting tirades on O’Brien’s late-night show.
Born in New York City and raised in Minneapolis, Vaughn moved to Los Angeles, where he earned a master’s degree in theater at Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in communications from USC in 1970. His dissertation, “Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting,” was published in 1972. His memoir, A Fortunate Life, was published in 2009.
Vaughn also appeared onstage, including a 1955 production of The Pilgramage Play in Hollywood, later taking roles in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, and, more recently, Twelve Angry Men at the U.K.’s Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 2013, continuing with the production when it transferred to the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End.