|Robert Culp and Bill Cosby broke new ground with “I Spy.’’ (Nbc)|
Robert Culp, actor in ‘I Spy,’ ‘Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice’
LOS ANGELES — Robert Culp, the actor who teamed with Bill Cosby in the racially groundbreaking television series “I Spy’’ and was Bob in the critically acclaimed sex comedy “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,’’ died yesterday after collapsing outside his Hollywood home, his manager said. Mr. Culp was 79.
Manager Hillard Elkins said the actor was on a walk when he fell. He was taken to a hospital and was pronounced dead just before noon. The actor’s son was told he died of a heart attack, Elkins said, though police were unsure whether the fall was medically related.
“I Spy’’ greatly advanced the careers of Mr. Culp and Cosby and forged a lifelong friendship.
Cosby said Mr. Culp was like an older brother to him.
“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 said yesterday. “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 said.
Candace Culp, the actor’s former wife, was devastated.
“He was a wonderful, creative man who contributed so much to his business, as an actor, as a writer, as a director,’’ she said.
Mr. Culp had been writing screenplays, Elkins said.
“I Spy,’’ which aired from 1965 to 1968, was a television milestone in more ways than one. Its combination of humor and adventure broke new ground, and it was the first integrated television show to feature a black actor in a starring role.
Mr. Culp played Kelly Robinson, a spy whose cover was that of an ace tennis player. (In real life, Mr. Culp actually was a top-notch tennis player who showed his skills in numerous celebrity tournaments.). Cosby was fellow spy Alexander Scott, whose cover was that of Culp’s trainer. The pair traveled the world in the service of the US government.
Mr. Culp followed “I Spy’’ with his most prestigious film role, in “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.’’ The work of first-time director Paul Mazursky, who also co-wrote the screenplay, lampooned the lifestyles of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Bob and Carol (Mr. Culp and Natalie Wood) were the innocent ones who were introduced to wife-swapping by their best friends, Ted and Alice (Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon).
Mr. Culp also had starring roles in “The Castaway Cowboy,’’ “Golden Girl,’’ “Turk 182!,’’ and “Big Bad Mama II.’’
His teaming with Cosby, however, was his best remembered role.
Cosby won Emmys for actor in a leading role all three years that “I Spy’’ aired, and Mr. Culp, who was nominated for the same award each year, said he was never jealous.
“I was the proudest man around,’’ he said in a 1977 interview.
Both he and Cosby were involved in civil rights causes, and after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, the pair traveled to Memphis to join the striking garbage workers King had been organizing.
Mr. Culp and Cosby also costarred in the 1972 movie “Hickey and Boggs,’’ which Mr. Culp directed. This time they were hard-luck private detectives who encountered multiple deaths. Audiences who had enjoyed the lightheartedness of “I Spy’’ were disappointed, and the movie flopped at the box office.
“His proudest moments were when he was writing and directing ‘I Spy’ and ‘Hickey and Boggs,’ ’’ Cosby said. “Bob was meticulous and committed.’’
After years of talking up the idea, they finally re-teamed in 1994 for a two-hour
In his first movie role, Mr. Culp played one of John F. Kennedy’s crew in “PT 109.’’
He remained active in movies and television. Among his notable later performances was as a US president in 1993’s “The Pelican Brief.’’ More recently, he had a recurring role as Patricia Heaton’s father in the sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond’’ and appeared in such shows as “Robot Chicken,’’ “Chicago Hope,’’ and an episode of “Cosby.’’
Robert Martin Culp was born in 1930 in Oakland.