Robert Culp dies at 79; actor starred in 'I Spy' TV series
'He was the big brother that all of us wish for,' said his co-star on the show, Bill Cosby. The Emmy-nominated Culp also won plaudits for his role in the 1969 movie 'Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.'
Robert Culp takes a break while filming his TV show "The Greatest American Hero" in 1981. He played FBI Agent Bill Maxwell on the series, which ran on ABC from 1981 to 1983. (Associated Press / July 25, 2014)
Culp fell and hit his head while taking a walk outside his Hollywood Hills home. He was found by a jogger who called 911 and was pronounced dead at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, said Lt. Bob Binder of the Los Angeles Police Department. An autopsy is pending.
"My mind wants to flow into sadness, but I want to stay above that," Cosby told The Times on Wednesday.
"Those of us who are the firstborn always dream of that imaginary brother or sister who will be their protector, the buffer, the one to take the blows," Cosby said. "I'm a firstborn, and Bob was the answer to my dreams. He was the big brother that all of us wish for."
Longtime friend Hugh Hefner, who was introduced to Culp by Cosby in the 1960s, said he was "absolutely stunned" by the actor's death.
"He was one of my best friends," Hefner told The Times on Wednesday.
Culp was a regular at a weekly gathering of friends at the Playboy Mansion.
"He was very much like he appeared to be," Hefner said. "He's the one who came up with the tongue-in-cheek motto for when the guys got together: 'Gentlemen, gentlemen, be of good cheer, for they are out there and we are in here.' "
In a six-decade career in which he was best known for his work on television, Culp first came to fame as the star of the TV western "Trackdown," which ran on CBS from 1957 to 1959 and featured Culp as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman.
He later played FBI Agent Bill Maxwell on the 1981-83 ABC series "The Greatest American Hero."
But for TV fans of a certain age, Culp is best remembered for “I Spy.”
The hourlong series, which ran from 1965 to 1968 and was billed as an "adventure-comedy" by NBC, starred Culp as Kelly Robinson and Cosby as Alexander Scott, American secret agents whose cover was that Kelly was a globe-trotting top-seeded tennis player and Scott was his trainer.
The series, which was filmed on location around the world, made history as the first American weekly dramatic series with a black performer in a starring role.
"When I first heard Bill Cosby was the other half of this team, I said, 'Wait a minute!' " Culp told The Times in 1965. "I knew he was a comedian, but could he act? Then I saw him work in our pilot film, and the guy is brilliant.
"We have a rapport never seen on a screen before. It's a kind of Clark Gable-Spencer Tracy relationship. We're an inseparable team, a kind of Damon and Pythias. Bill and I together form what you will root for in the series."
Culp received three consecutive Emmy nominations for his role in "I Spy" and was beat out each time by Cosby.
But Culp, who also received an Emmy nomination for a script he wrote for the series, said he wasn't jealous over Cosby's wins.
"No," he told the Washington Post in 1977, "I was the proudest man around."
In a 1969 Playboy interview, Cosby said that after he and Culp first read for the series, they got together afterward and talked.