British actor David McCallum, who played the iconic spy Illya Kuryakin in the 1960s hit series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., passed away on Monday, September 25 in New York City. The actor was 90 years old and died of natural causes. More recently, he was known for playing the role of Dr. Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard on the long-running series NCIS.
David’s son Peter made a statement saying, “He was the kindest, coolest, most patient and loving father. He always put family before self. He looked forward to any chance to connect with his grandchildren and had a unique bond with each of them. He and his youngest grandson, Whit, 9, could often be found in the corner of a room at family parties having deep philosophical conversations.”
“He was a true renaissance man — he was fascinated by science and culture and would turn those passions into knowledge. For example, he was capable of conducting a symphony orchestra and (if needed) could actually perform an autopsy, based on his decades-long studies for his role on NCIS,” Peter said.
Peter continued, “After returning from the hospital to their apartment, I asked my mother if she was OK before she went to sleep. Her answer was simply, ‘Yes. But I do wish we had had a chance to grow old together.’ She is 79, and dad just turned 90. The honesty in that emotion shows how vibrant their beautiful relationship and daily lives were, and that somehow, even at 90, Daddy never grew old.”
David’s portrayal of Illya Kuryakin was highly appreciated by the audience and critics alike. The spy drama became a massive hit, leading to several spin-offs and adaptations, thanks to the actors’ conviction for the narrative. Talking about David’s stellar performance, Mark Feeney wrote in the Boston Globe in 2008, “Where (Robert) Vaughn’s (Napoleon) Solo was chilly, McCallum’s Kuryakin was cool — very cool indeed. If Julie Christie had the 60s’ sexiest lower lip, as she most certainly did, then McCallum was a distant second. Add in his blonde bangs, high cerebral forehead, and penchant for dark turtlenecks, and a teen idol was born.”
Later in his career, David was known for his performance on the CBS show NCIS which spanned over a decade. David’s Dr. Mallard was a forensic scientist and criminal profiler who greatly contributed to the show’s dramatic and comedic aspects. NCIS was the most-watched series in the US between 2012 and 2013.
CBS released a statement saying, “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 humour 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.”
Talking about the show in a 2012 interview with Variety, David said, “I’m doing it because I absolutely love what I’m doing. I’m doing what I was born to do. And I’ve done it when I joined Equity in 1946. And it’s wonderful to have this show and this character at this point in my career… My life is dedicated to the new script coming through the door.”
David was born in Glasgow, Scotland to musician parents. His father was the first violinist for the London Philharmonic and his mother was a cellist. Thus, he initially pursued a career in music as an oboist but later decided to pursue acting. He also authored the book titled Once a Crooked Man in 2016.
David’s filmography includes some iconic movies like The Long and the Short and the Tall, Freud and The Great Escape. He also guest-starred in several hit shows like Sex and the City, Law and Order, Babylon 5 and Murder, She Wrote among others.
The actor is survived by his second wife of 56 years, Katherine McCallum, his sons Paul McCallum, Valentine McCallum and Peter McCallum, his daughter Sophie McCallum and his eight grandchildren.