Actor David McCallum Dies, Aged 90

David McCallum

by James White |

David McCallum, who rose to fame in the 1960s spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and then won a whole new audience as pathologist Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on long-running US drama NCIS has died. He was 90.

David Keith McCallum was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1933. With both parents as musicians, he originally followed in their footsteps pursued a career in music, training on the oboe and studying for a time at the Royal Academy of Music, though he soon left and enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. After RADA he started performing with repertory theater companies.

He'd already been acting since the age of 12, however, as part of the BBC radio repertory company. McCallum made his screen debut in 1953 on the Beeb's fantasy series The Rose And The Ring.

His big screen career included the likes of The Great Escape, Robbery Under Arms, The Greatest Story Ever Told, Cherry and Hear My Song.

He had a long and varied TV career too (including plenty of voiceover work in the animated sphere), but he'll forever be known as the cerebral Illya Kuryakin opposite Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and its various TV movie and film spin-offs. NCIS offered him a late-career bloom, and was one of the leads on the CBS series about officers of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, appearing from the show's launch in 2003 until the 20th season's finale this past May.

Music, though never entirely left his life. At the height of his fame in the 1960s, McCallum recorded four albums for Capitol Records. He conceived a blend of oboe, English horn, and strings with guitar and drums, presenting instrumental interpretations of current hits. Though someone else was officially credited as the arranger on the albums, McCallum conducted some of the music and contributed several original compositions.

McCallum's son Peter made the following statement:
"He was the kindest, coolest, most patient and loving father. He always put family before self. He looked forward to any chance to connect with his grandchildren, and had a unique bond with each of them. He and his youngest grandson, Whit, 9, could often be found in the corner of a room at family parties having deep philosophical conversations.

"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."

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