Robert Culp, Gone at 79

-By Warner Todd Huston

Another iconic actor from my youth has passed. Robert Culp died today as a result of a head injury suffered from a fall outside his home. A passerby discovered the unresponsive actor and called 911. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Culp is most known for his alternately comic and dramatic role as Kelly Robinson, globe trotting tennis pro and American spy, in the 1960s TV show “I Spy.”

His work on this series was exemplar and “I Spy” was one of the best of its genera. It was serious subject matter which was never treated in the campy way that rival show “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” treated the spy theme. The writing on “I Spy” was always top notch.

With partner Alexander Scott — played by Bill Cosby in one of the first serious recurring roles staring a black man on American TV — Kelly Robinson (Culp) and the “I Spy” team dramatized the most intense Cold War themes of nuclear war, totalitarian governments, and technological intelligence. The show was filmed all across the world in a costly move for TV at the time.

The show as created by Sheldon Leonard who had an idea to get past the “closed in” feeling of how TV was filmed in 1965. “I wanted to get out in the open. On the small screen, I wanted to put exotic locations that had seldom been seen, even on the big screen,” Sheldon said in his book “And the Show Goes On.”

“I Spy” will rank as one of the best shows of its kind and much of that success had to do with the wonderful on-screen relationship that Culp and Cosby created between their two characters. You really came to believe these comrades in arms cared for each other. The pair developed a hilarious patter between themselves that really worked to reveal the love they felt for each other. When one was in trouble, it was easy to believe that the other was truly anguished over it and the viewer just knew that they’d do anything for each other.

Culp also starred in a wonderful episode of “The Outer Limits” (Demon With a Glass Hand, 1964) and was the co-star of the 80s TV series “Greatest American Hero.”

So, another one of my childhood heroes has passed from this earth. They are all going so quickly. Pretty soon this whole world will no longer feel like “my” world. Such is getting old, eh?

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  • I know, right? Isn't it sickening? Today I ran into people that said "What's 'I Spy'"? ... and then they said "Oh, you mean the guy from 'Greatest American Hero'?" I felt sooooo old.

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