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 today 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. The actor is survived by wife Linda, son Cassidy and daughter Caitlin.
Vaughn’s lengthy list of credits includes everything from an uncredited idol worshipper 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. Uncle 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.
Though the series was not a huge stateside hit, it spawned a short-lived spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. starring Stephanie Powers (’66-67), and contributed mightily to the Secret Agent Man craze of the mid-late ’60s.
Vaughn also had early roles in The Young Philadelphians (1959), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, and played a gunman in The Magnificent Seven (1960).
More recently, Vaughn played con man Albert Stroller on British series Hustle (2004-12). During the first two months of ’12, he took on the role of Milton Fanshaw in Britain’s soap opera staple Coronation Street, wooing Stephanie Cole’s Sylvia Goodwin.
Though 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 resume of feature film work, 1958’s Teenage Cave Man notwithstanding. In addition to The Young Philadelphians (1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), and Bullitt (1968), Vaughn had memorable parts in popular pictures like The Towering Inferno (1974), S.O.B. (1981), Superman III (1983) and, as the uncredited voice of Proteus IV, Demon Seed (1977).
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, Vaughn moved to Los Angeles, where he earned a master’s degree in theater at Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and Sciences, then in 1970 a Ph.D. in communications from the University of Southern California. 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 on stage, 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.