84° Good Afternoon
84° Good Afternoon

'I Spy' actor Robert Culp dies at 79

Robert Culp, who starred with Bill Cosby in the '60s espionage series "I Spy," - the first prime-time drama to cast an African American in a lead role - died Wednesday after collapsing outside his home in Hollywood. Initial reports had said he had struck his head, but The Associated Press reported he had died of a heart attack. He was 79.

"I Spy," which aired from 1965-68, was about a pair of spies with covers as a tennis pro (Culp) and his trainer (Cosby). While Cosby's Alexander Scott supplied the humor, Culp's Kelly Robinson provided the urbanity. Some stations in the south boycotted the show.

Culp was like an older brother to him, Cosby said Wednesday. "The first born in every family is always dreaming of the older brother or sister he or she doesn't have, to protect, to be the buffer, provide the wisdom, shoulder the blows and make things right," he told The Associated Press. "Bob was the answer to my dreams. No matter how many mistakes I made on 'I Spy,' he was always there to teach and protect me."

Cosby won Emmys for actor in a leading role all three years that "I Spy" aired, and Culp, who was nominated for the same award, did not. "I was the proudest man around," he said in a 1977 interview about Cosby's victories.

Both Culp and Cosby were involved in civil rights causes, and when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 the pair traveled to Memphis, Tenn., to join the striking garbage workers King had been organizing.

Culp's other major TV roles included the 1950s western "Trackdown" and the '80s action show "The Greatest American Hero."

In recent years, he played Warren, Debra Barone's (Patricia Heaton) dad, on "Everybody Loves Raymond."

Along with "I Spy," his other indelible role was in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," the 1969 movie send-up of the sexual revolution. The film also supplied one of the decade's truly emblematic images - the married Bob (Culp) and Carol (Natalie Wood) sharing the same bed with another married couple Ted (Elliott Gould) and Alice (Dyan Cannon). Millions were scandalized by the image; the movie, of course, was a huge hit.

Culp was married five times, to Nancy Ashe, Elayne Wilner, France Nuyen, Sheila Sullivan and Candace Faulkner. He had four children with Ashe and one with Faulkner.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More Entertainment