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Robert Vaughn, 83, star of ‘Man From U.N.C.L.E.,’ has died

Actor Robert Vaughn on the set of

Actor Robert Vaughn on the set of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," which ran from 1964 to 1968. Photo Credit: AP

Robert Vaughn, who starred in the 1960s TV series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” becoming nearly as indelible a fictional secret agent as Sean Connery’s James Bond, has died. He was 83.

Vaughn died Friday morning after a brief battle with acute leukemia, according to his manager, Matthew Sullivan.

Vaughn received an Oscar nod for his role opposite Paul Newman in 1959’s “The Young Philadelphians,” but it was on TV that he made his mark.

Vaughn had credits in dozens of TV series and in a handful of films, some as notable now as on the day they were released, especially “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) and “Bullitt” (1968), arguably the greatest car-chase thriller in cinematic history, which created myths around Vaughn’s co-star, Steve McQueen.

There were a few other classic and quasi-classics, too — “The Bridge at Remagen,” “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium,” “The Towering Inferno” and “Superman III.”

When the film career flagged, the TV one remained. Vaughn was Gen. Hunt Stockwell on “The A-Team,” and he later appeared on “Hunter,” “Murder, She Wrote,” and “Diagnosis: Murder.” He was most recently, and briefly, in “Law & Order: SVU.” Vaughn even built up credits on English TV (“Coronation Street,” “Hustle”).

But it would be “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” that captured the imagination — or at least the hearts — of millions of viewers during its 1964-68 run. An acronym for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement — think FBI, only much sexier — the series was really about the men from U.N.C.L.E.: Vaughn’s suave American Napoleon Solo and David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin, his cool Russian partner. The crime-fighting duo concentrated most of their energy on THRUSH — Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and Subjugation of Humanity, which (with a name like that) was engaged in monstrous evil.

Of course, THRUSH had to get by Napoleon and Illya first. McCallum — who now stars in “NCIS,” TV’s top-rated drama series — played Kuryakin not quite for laughs. But Vaughn played Napoleon exactly for what was intended, a sex symbol with not-quite distant intimations of James Bond.

Connery had become the biggest star in the world, and for a moment, Vaughn threatened to become the biggest one on television. Millions of kids argued over who was their favorite — Illya or Napoleon — as urgently as they argued over their favorite Beatle. Vaughn was simply perfect in the role: He did play Napoleon tongue-in-cheek, but the humor was so subtle and seductive that fans probably never picked up on much of it.

Robert Francis Vaughn was born into a theatrical family Nov. 22, 1932, in New York City. His father was a radio actor, his mother performed on Broadway and his grandparents acted in theater. His parents divorced when he was only 6 months old, however, and he was sent to live with his grandparents in Minneapolis.

After his grandparents died, Vaughn moved to Los Angeles. Spotted in a college play, he was signed to a contract with Burt Lancaster’s company but was soon drafted into the Army. After his discharge in 1957, he made his first movie, “No Time to Be Young.”

Vaughn married actress Linda Staab in 1974 and is survived by her, their son Cassidy and daughter Caitlin.

— With AP

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