Actor David McCallum, who became a teen idol in the hit series UNCLE’S MAN in the 1960s and reached new audiences as the beloved character of Dr. Donald (Ducky) Mallard in NCIS, died at age 90.
McCallum died Monday of natural causes while surrounded by family at New York Presbyterian Hospital, according to a CBS news release. He had just celebrated his 90th birthday less than a week ago, on September 19.
McCallum was the last original cast member on the CBS series. NCIS, in which he plays a bookish medical examiner for the Naval Criminal Investigation Service. Fan-favorite character Ducky was introduced when the series launched in 2003 and appeared until the 20th season finale in May 2023.
In recent years, the actor had adopted a lighter filming schedule for NCIS so he could spend time with his wife of 56 years, Katherine Carpenter, his children, grandchildren and his cat, Nickie.
McCallum’s son, Peter, released a statement on behalf of his family following the actor’s death, saying: “On returning from the hospital to their apartment, I asked my mother if she was okay before fall asleep. His response was simply: “Yes. But I wish we had the chance to grow old together. She is 79 years old and Dad just turned 90. The honesty of this emotion shows how dynamic their beautiful relationship and daily life were, and that somehow, even at 90, Dad never aged.
“He was the kindest, coolest, most patient, most loving father,” he added. “He was a true Renaissance man: he was fascinated by science and culture and he would turn those passions into knowledge. For example, he was capable of conducting a symphony orchestra and (if necessary) performing an autopsy, based on his decades-long studies for his role in NCIS.”
Scottish-born McCallum became a household name in the mid-1960s playing Agent Illya Kuryakin in UNCLE’S MANa television series that rode the wave of spy thrillers that appeared after the success of James Bond movies.
McCallum’s enigmatic and intellectual character in the series was particularly popular with teenage girls of the time – no doubt helped by the actor’s good looks and Beatlesque haircut. He and his co-star Robert Vaughn, who played the title character Napoleon Solo, were often mobbed by young fans during personal appearances.
Initially, McCallum’s role as Kuryakin was small and he only spoke a few lines. But his character’s popularity quickly elevated him to co-star status as Napoleon Solo’s sidekick.
MGM, which produced the series, said he attracted more fan mail than any other star in the studio’s famous history, although McCallum later insisted that “Vaughn received as much than me”.
After UNCLE’S MAN, McCallum has kept busy, notably on television, starring in the British series Colditz from 1972 to 1974 and Sapphire & Steel from 1979 to 1982. He also appeared as a guest on a number of popular American television shows, including Hart to Hart, Matlock, Murder, She Wrote, Law and Order And Sex and the city.
A new brush with fame was expected when McCallum was chosen for NCIS like Ducky. He told New Zealand TV Guide that it was his “best role ever”. He immersed himself in the role and even studied forensic pathology, attending autopsies at the Los Angeles coroner’s office and speaking at pathologist conventions.
NCIS is still one of the most watched shows on television.
Executive producers Steven D. Binder and David North said McCallum “was a scholar and a gentleman, always personable, a consummate professional and never letting a joke slip.” From day one it was an honor to work with him and he never let us down. He was simply a legend.
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Before becoming an actor, McCallum came from a family of musicians and even studied oboe at the Royal Academy of Music. He left shortly after deciding he was not good enough at music and instead joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
Fresh out of his UNCLE fame, McCallum recorded four albums for Capitol Records with producer David Axelrod. His musical career would produce the iconic song The edgewhich was sampled by Dr. Dre in The next episode.
McCallum was first married to actor Jill Ireland in 1957 after the couple met on the set of Robbery under arms. He later played a role in The great Escape where he and his wife befriended Charles Bronson, also in the film. Ireland eventually fell in love with Bronson and she and McCallum divorced in 1967. She married Bronson in 1968.
“It all worked out,” McCallum said in 2009, “because shortly afterward I ended up with Katherine (Carpenter, a former model) and we’ve been very happily married for 42 years.”
McCallum had three sons from his first marriage, Paul, Jason and Valentine, as well as a son and a daughter from his second, Peter and Sophie. Jason died of an overdose.
He is also survived by eight grandchildren: Julia McCallum, Luca de Sanctis, Iain de Sanctis, Stella McCallum, Gavin McCallum, George McCallum, Alessandro de Sanctis and Whit McCallum.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
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