The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS star David McCallum dies aged 90

25 September 2023, 23:06 | Updated: 26 September 2023, 00:41

McCallum died in New York surrounded by his family
McCallum died in New York surrounded by his family. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS star David McCallum has died aged 90 surrounded by his family.

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The Scottish-born actor was a "gifted actor and author", American broadcaster CBS said in a statement on Monday.

McCallum died from natural causes at hospital in New York. He was also known for prominent roles in The Great Escape and A Night to Remember.

With his blond Beatles haircut, McCallum was regarded as a teenage heartthrob in the 1960s. He made his name in The Man From U.N.C.L.E, an espionage series spawned from the success of James Bond, playing Illya Kuryakin.

Initially a minor character with just a couple of lines, the chemistry he had with Robert Vaughn convinced producers to move him up to co-star.

But he will most recently be remembered for his turn in NCIS, where he played the eccentric chief medical examiner Donald "Ducky" Mallard.

The character was a close confidante of Mark Harmon's Jethro Gibbs during the hit show's run.

McCallum played Ducky in NCIS
McCallum played Ducky in NCIS. Picture: Alamy

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McCallum, who also appeared as Judas in the Biblical epic The Greatest Story Ever Told, conducted three records. He had studied at the Royal Academy of Music but was convinced to pick acting after a performance in Shakespeare's King John was well-received at a local theatre group.

He moved to the US in 1961, when his acting career took off. He was twice nominated for an Emmy and once for a Golden Globe.

He published a novel, Once a Crooked Man, in 2016.

McCallum is survived by his wife of 56 years, Katherine McCallum, his sons Paul McCallum, Valentine McCallum and Peter McCallum, his daughter Sophie McCallum and eight grandchildren.

His son Peter said: "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, nine, 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.

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McCallum's early career saw him play roles in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Great Escape
McCallum's early career saw him play roles in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Great Escape. Picture: Alamy

"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."

CBS said: "He led an incredible life, and his legacy will forever live on through his family and the countless hours on film and television that will never go away.

"We will miss his warmth and endearing sense of humor that lit up any room or soundstage he stepped onto, as well as the brilliant stories he often shared from a life well-lived. Our hearts go out to his wife Katherine and his entire family, and all those who knew and loved David."