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Actor Urich, 55, dies from cancer

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- In Robert Urich's 30-year TV career, he became as much a fixture as the characters he played: sexy private eyes in "Vega$" and "Spenser: For Hire" and a luckless cowboy in "Lonesome Dove."

He kept acting even as he fought cancer. His death Tuesday came one day after the debut of the television movie "Night of the Wolf," in which Urich co-starred as a ranch foreman.

His professionalism was "exemplary," said Burt Reynolds, who helped Urich land his first major role -- co-starring as Reynolds' younger brother in a stage production of "The Rainmaker."

He was the "kindest and most loyal friend," Reynolds said.

"Robert Urich was an athlete, artist, a wonderful friend and he was one of those rare people who never said anything unkind about anybody," he said in a statement.

Urich, 55, died at a hospital in Thousand Oaks surrounded by family members and friends, publicist Cindy Guagenti said Tuesday.

He announced in 1996 that he was suffering from synovial cell sarcoma, a rare cancer that attacks the body's joints. He underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatments and two operations in the mid-1990s to combat the cancer.

Last November, Urich told Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd that lumps had been found but a "wonder drug cleared them up." Last week, he checked into a hospital with breathing problems, Archerd reported Tuesday.

The dark-haired, square-jawed actor earned his first TV role in the 1973 comedy series "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice." He also appeared in the TV series "S.W.A.T" before being cast as Peter Campbell in "Soap."

"Night of the Wolf," co-starring Anne Archer, debuted Monday on Animal Planet and repeats Friday on the cable channel. In an online promotional spot, Urich recounts a scene that required horseback riding, something he hadn't done for years.

"I showed up and they told me to gallop up this hill and duck under branches," Urich says. "I thought 'Holy smokes, I should've spent a couple of days on the horse.' But we did all right."

Recognizable role

One of his most recognizable roles came as private detective Dan Tanna in "Vega$," which ran on ABC from 1978 to 1981. He played another detective in the ABC series "Spenser: For Hire," which was based on Robert Parker's novels. That series aired from 1985 to 1988.

Urich played Jake Spoon in the 1989 miniseries "Lonesome Dove," based on the Larry McMurtry novel about a grueling cattle drive.

Recently, Urich appeared as a wanderer suffering from amnesia in "The Lazarus Man," and a wisecracking talent agent on the short-lived NBC sitcom "Emeril."

Urich sued Castle Rock Television, which produced "The Lazarus Man," for nearly $1.5 million two years ago, claiming the show was canceled by the production company because he had cancer.

In July 1996, Urich told Castle Rock that he had cancer and would have to undergo treatment, but his lawsuit said he was able to perform under the agreement both parties signed. The breach of contract suit sought the amount, about $73,000 per episode, he would have received for the second season of "Lazarus Man." No action has been taken on the suit, a Castle Rock spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Born in Toronto, Ohio, Urich won a football scholarship at Florida State University. He later earned a master's degree in broadcast research and management from Michigan State University.

Urich briefly worked in Chicago as a radio sales agent and a TV weatherman. He married actress Heather Menzies -- who played one of the singing von Trapp children in the 1965 film "The Sound of Music" -- 25 years ago.

Urich, who appeared in several miniseries and cable specials, won an Emmy in 1992 for his narration of the cable documentary "U-Boats: Terror on Our Shores." He also won a Cable ACE award as host of the National Geographic series "On Assignment." Other TV credits include: "Crossroads," "Vital Signs," "It Had to Be You," and "The Love Boat: The Next Wave." His film credits include starring roles in "Turk 182!" with Timothy Hutton and "Ice Pirates" with Anjelica Houston.

After his bout with cancer, Urich became active in cancer research. He and his wife established the Heather and Robert Urich Fund for Sarcoma Research to accelerate the pace of research into sarcoma. Earlier this year, Urich donated the proceeds from his appearance on the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" to a fund at the University of Michigan, where he was treated for cancer.

He is survived by his wife; three children, Allison, Ryan and Emily; two brothers; a sister; and his mother.

A memorial service was planned Friday in Los Angeles.


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