Actor and scriptwriter Robert Culp died today after he hit his head from a fall that took place outside his Los Angeles home. He was 79 years old. Culp earned an international reputation for his role as Kelly Robinson on I Spy (1965-1968), the espionage series, where he and co-star Bill Cosby played a pair of secret agents.
Culp was born Robert Martin Culp on August 16, 1930 in Oakland, California. He graduated from Berkeley High School. He also attended the University of Washington School of Drama and graduated from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He was married five times and had three sons and two daughters. From 1967-1970, he was married to Eurasian actress France Nuyen, whom he met when she guest-starred on I Spy in 1966. She appeared in four episodes of the series, two of them written by Culp himself. During the series run, Culp wrote scripts for seven episodes, one of which he also directed. He also wrote scripts for several other television series, including Trackdown.
Culp came to national attention very early in his career as the star of the 1957-1959 Western television series Trackdown in which he played Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman. Trackdown was a spin-off of Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, also on CBS. Culp's character was introduced in an episode titled Badge of Honor. Culp had previously appeared in two other episodes of Zane Grey Theater - "Morning Incident" and "Calico Bait" (both 1960) playing different roles. Trackdown then had a CBS spin-off of its own: Wanted: Dead or Alive, with Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall.
After his series ended in 1959, Culp continued to work in television, including a guest-starring role as Stewart Douglas in the 1960 episode "So Dim the Light" of CBS's anthology series, The DuPont Show with June Allyson. He appeared too on the NBC anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show. Moreover, Culp was cast as Captain Shark in a first season episode of NBC's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964). Among his more memorable performances were in three episodes of the science-fiction anthology series The Outer Limits (1963-1965), including the classic "Demon with a Glass Hand", written by Harlan Ellison. In the 1961-1962 season, he guest starred on ABC's crime drama Target: The Corruptors!. In the 1962-1963 season, he guest starred in NBC's modern Western series Empire starring Richard Egan. In the episode, he got into a boxing match with series co-star Ryan O'Neal.
Culp then played secret agent Kelly Robinson, who masqueraded as a professional tennis player, for three years on the hit NBC series I Spy (1965-68), with co-star Bill Cosby. Culp wrote the scripts for seven episodes, one of which he also directed. One episode earned him an Emmy nomination for writing. For all three years of the series he was also nominated for an acting Emmy (Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series category), but lost each time to Cosby.
He played a murderer in three separate Columbo episodes. Prior to that, he, Peter Falk, Robert Wagner and Darren McGavin each stepped in to take turns with Anthony Franciosa's rotation of NBC's series The Name of the Game after Franciosa was fired, alternating a lead role of the lavish 90-minute show about the magazine business with Gene Barry and Robert Stack.
In 1981 he got his big break back into the television realm when he starred in The Greatest American Hero, he played tough-as-nails-by-the-book-FBI Agent Bill Maxwell who gets teamed up with a special education teacher named Ralph Hinkley after Ralph receives a supersuit with special powers from aliens delivered by a flying saucer. That show only lasted three years ending in 1983 but the character of Bill Maxwell will always be remembered by some Culp fans. He reprised the role in a voice-over role on the stop-motion sketch comedy Robot Chicken.
In 1987, he reunited with Bill Cosby, this time on The Cosby Show, playing Dr. Cliff Huxtable's old friend Scott Kelly. The name was a combination of their I Spy characters' names.
When Larry Hagman entered into contract negotiations over his character of J.R. Ewing in Dallas it was widely reported that Culp was ready to step into the role with an explanation that J.R.'s face had been altered following an accident. However this turned out to be a false rumor. Culp has said in interviews that he was never contacted by anyone from Dallas about the part. He was working on The Greatest American Hero at the time and has stated that he would not have left his role as Maxwell even if it had been offered.
One of his most recent recurring roles was a part on Everybody Loves Raymond as Warren Whelan, Ray's father-in-law.
He appeared on episodes of many other television programs including a 1961 season three episode of Bonanza titled Broken Ballad, as well as The Golden Girls, The Nanny, The Girls Next Door and Wings.
Although primarily known from television, Culp has also worked as an actor in many theatrical films, beginning with three in 1963: As naval officer John F. Kennedy's good friend Ensign George Ross in PT 109, as legendary gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok in The Raiders and as the debonair fiance of Jane Fonda in the romantic comedy Sunday in New York.
He went on to star in the provocative Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice in 1969, probably the height of his movie career. Another memorable role came as another gunslinger, Thomas Luther Price, in Hannie Caulder (1971) opposite Raquel Welch. A year later, Hickey & Boggs reunited him with Cosby for the first time since I Spy. Culp also directed this feature film, in which he and Cosby portray over-the-hill private eyes. In 1986, he had a primary role as General Woods in the comedy Combat Academy.
Culp played the U.S. President in Alan J. Pakula's 1994 murder mystery The Pelican Brief starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts. In all, Culp has given hundreds of performances in a career spanning more than 50 years.
Good Night Mr. Culp