David McCallum Star of NCISTh e Man From UNCLE Dies at 90 David McCallum, renowned for his iconic portrayal of Illya Kuryakin alongside Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo in the 1960s spy sensation The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and later, for his notable role as pathologist Dr. Donald Ducky Mallard on the immensely popular series NCIS, passed away on Monday due to natural causes in New York City. He was 90 years old.
In a statement representing the McCallum family, his son Peter expressed, “He embodied the qualities of kindness, unparalleled coolness, remarkable patience, and boundless love as a father. He consistently prioritized family over self, eagerly anticipating any opportunity to connect with his beloved grandchildren, forging distinctive connections with each of them. At family gatherings, he and his youngest grandson, Whit, aged 9, could frequently be found engaged in profound and philosophical conversations in the corner of a room.”
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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.
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.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E., heavily influenced by the James Bond franchise, featured Robert Vaughn as Solo and David McCallum as Kuryakin, who together fought against the sinister organization THRUSH on a global scale. The show, which occasionally shifted between serious and cartoonish tones during its four-season run in the mid-1960s, became a significant pop-culture phenomenon. It not only inspired a spinoff series called “The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.” starring Stefanie Powers but also led to several feature adaptations released during the TV series’ tenure. These adaptations included One Spy Too Many, One of Our Spies Is Missing, and The Karate Killers, all starring Vaughn and McCallum.
David McCallum even made a guest appearance as Kuryakin in the sitcom Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. Later, in 1983, he returned to his iconic role in the TV movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair.
In a 2008 Boston Globe article celebrating “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” series, Mark Feeney praised David McCallum’s portrayal of Illya Kuryakin, noting that while Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo was somewhat distant, McCallum’s Kuryakin exuded a remarkable sense of coolness. He likened McCallum’s allure to that of Julie Christie’s iconic lower lip, asserting that McCallum came in a close second in the ’60s sex appeal department. With his striking blond bangs, prominent intellectual forehead, and fondness for dark turtlenecks, McCallum had unquestionably become a teen heartthrob.
Fast forward to August 2015, and a feature adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., helmed by director Guy Ritchie, hit the screens. Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer took on the roles of Solo and Kuryakin, respectively, bringing a fresh take to these beloved characters.
Meanwhile, on the immensely popular CBS series “NCIS,” centered around a team of Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents under the leadership of Mark Harmon’s Leroy Jethro Gibbs, David McCallum assumed the role of Dr. Mallard. In addition to providing crucial forensic insights, Dr. Mallard also lent his expertise as a criminal profiler. The character added a touch of quirkiness to the show, particularly through his eccentric, aging mother, who eventually battled dementia and passed away. McCallum’s contribution was instrumental in the series’ successful blend of drama with a sprinkle of comedy. NCIS, which made its debut in 2003, eventually gave rise to two spinoff series, NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans
CBS released a statement expressing their deep sorrow at the loss of David McCallum and acknowledging the privilege of having him as part of their network for many years. They described David as a highly talented actor and author who was cherished by people worldwide. His remarkable life and contributions to film and television will continue to be celebrated through his family and the timeless hours of entertainment he provided. CBS also fondly remembered his warm and humorous presence, which brightened every room and soundstage he graced. David’s captivating stories from his rich life experiences were also highlighted. CBS extended their heartfelt condolences to his wife, Katherine, and his entire family, as well as to all those who had the privilege of knowing and loving him.
In 2011, NCIS was voted America’s favorite television show in a Harris Poll, and during the 2012-13 TV season, it held the distinction of being the most-watched series in the United States.
In a 2012 interview, David McCallum shared with Variety’s Chris Willman his enduring passion for acting despite a career spanning over six decades. He emphasized that he continued to work because he loved what he did, considering it his life’s calling since he joined Equity in 1946. He expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to be part of the show and portray his character at that stage of his career.
My life is dedicated to the scripts that come my way, he explained. “Ensuring that all the medical terminology is accurate, and then calculating how many lines I need to memorize for my character, Ducky. This, in turn, determines the hours of work required to get it into my head and deliver it as convincingly as possible. Sometimes, it feels like you enter a scene with just a couple of lines, and Pauley dominates the conversation. Other times, you walk into a scene with three pages of intricate medical jargon, and I have to put in extra effort to grasp it and make it sound effortless, as if I truly understand it.”
While immersed in his role on NCIS, McCallum also cultivated a secondary career as a voice actor. He lent his voice to characters like C.A.R. in the Toon Disney show The Replacements, Professor Paradox in various iterations of the “Ben 10” series, and even contributed his voice to video games such as Diablo III: Reaper of Souls.
David Keith McCallum was born in Glasgow, Scotland, to a father who served as the first violinist for the London Philharmonic and a mother who was a cellist. Initially, he pursued a career in music, receiving training on the oboe and briefly studying at the Royal Academy of Music. However, he soon changed course, enrolling at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Following his time at RADA, he embarked on a career in the performing arts, working with repertory theater companies.
He embarked on his professional acting journey at the tender age of 12, back in 1946, as a member of the BBC radio repertory company.
His first appearance on screen occurred in the BBC fantasy miniseries The Rose and the Ring in 1953.
During the late 1950s, the young actor graced the silver screen in gripping crime dramas such as The Secret Place, Hell Drivers and Violent Playground, alongside the Australian Western Robbery Under Arms, starring Peter Finch.
In the 1958 film A Night to Remember, a portrayal of the Titanic tragedy, he took on a modest role as a wireless operator.
This phase of his career saw him extensively involved in British television, including notable roles in a 1959 BBC adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone and BBC renditions of Jane Austen’s Emma in 1960 and Wuthering Heights in 1962.
In 1961, David McCallum made his appearance in the intense and confined British WWII film The Long and the Short and the Tall (also known as Jungle Fighters), alongside actors like Richard Harris, Richard Todd, and Laurence Harvey. Additionally, he had supporting roles in Peter Ustinov’s Billy Budd and John Huston’s Freud the following year.
However, it was in 1963 when McCallum’s career took a significant turn when he was cast in the highly prominent and immensely successful American-made film The Great Escape, featuring stars like Steve McQueen and an ensemble cast. McCallum played a crucial supporting role as a member of the team known as “Dispersal.” Although his performance may not be the first thing that comes to mind when recalling the film, it marked a breakthrough moment in his career.
In 1964, McCallum took on the role of Judas in George Stevens’ epic The Greatest Story Ever Told, starring Max Von Sydow. This role further elevated his profile, with The New York Times noting, David McCallum’s portrayal of Judas Iscariot exudes a chilling sense of treachery.
During this period, McCallum also made guest appearances on American television shows like “Perry Mason” and “The Outer Limits,” coinciding with the beginning of his tenure on “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
David McCallum played a prominent role in the acclaimed BBC-Universal Television series “Colditz,” which aired from 1972 to 1974. The show focused on British prisoners held in a Nazi-occupied castle during World War II. Following this, in 1975, he took on a lead role in the NBC science fiction drama series “The Invisible Man,” although it lasted only one season.
McCallum also garnered praise for his performance in a miniseries adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped for Britain’s ITV. Moreover, he starred alongside Joanna Lumley in the ITV science fiction series Sapphire & Steele, which enjoyed a successful six-season run starting in 1979.
In 1986, McCallum reunited with Robert Vaughn, who was a regular on the final season of NBC’s “The A-Team,” for a memorable episode titled The Say Uncle Affair.
Throughout his career, McCallum made guest appearances on various popular shows including The Father Dowling Mysteries, Murder, She Wrote, SeaQuest 2032, Babylon 5,La w & Order, and even Sex and the City. He also had a small role in the charming British-Irish film Hear My Song (1991). During this period, he was a regular on the BBC series Trainer.
In the United States, McCallum had recurring roles on Fox’s groundbreaking cyber-thriller VR.5, starring Lori Singer, from 1995 to 1997, as well as on Richard Dreyfuss’s series “The Education of Max Bickford” in 2001.
When David McCallum made a guest appearance on JAG in 2003 at the age of 70, little did he know that this role would pave the way for the next decade-plus of his career.
During the 1960s, when he was at the peak of his fame, McCallum ventured into the music world by recording four albums for Capitol Records. Rather than showcasing his singing abilities, this classically trained musician crafted a unique blend of oboe, English horn, strings, guitar, and drums to create instrumental interpretations of contemporary hits. While other arrangers were officially credited for these albums, McCallum played a role in conducting the music and even contributed several original compositions.
In 2016, McCallum expanded his creative horizons by publishing a mystery novel titled “Once a Crooked Man.”
McCallum had been married twice, with his first marriage to actress Jill Ireland.
He is survived by his devoted wife of 56 years, Katherine McCallum, along with his children: Paul McCallum, Valentine McCallum, Peter McCallum, and Sophie McCallum. He also leaves behind a loving legacy of eight grandchildren: Julia McCallum, Luca de Sanctis, Iain de Sanctis, Stella McCallum, Gavin McCallum, George McCallum, Alessandro de Sanctis, and Whit McCallum.