Robert Urich

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Robert Urich
Robert urich 1973.JPG
Urich in 1973
Born Robert Michael Urich
(1946-12-19)December 19, 1946
Toronto, Ohio, U.S.
Died April 16, 2002(2002-04-16) (aged 55)
Thousand Oaks, California, U.S.
Cause of death Synovial cell sarcoma
Resting place Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
Nationality American
Other names Bob Urich
Robert York
Alma mater Florida State University
Michigan State University
Occupation Actor, producer
Years active 1972–2002
Spouse(s) Barbara Rucker (m. 1968–74)
Heather Menzies (m. 1975–2002)
Children 3

Robert Michael Urich (December 19, 1946 – April 16, 2002) was an American film, television and stage actor and television producer. Over the course of his 30-year career, he starred in a record 15 television series.[1]

Urich began his career in television in the early 1970s. After guest stints and roles in short-lived television series, he won a costarring role in the action/crime drama series S.W.A.T. in 1975. In 1976, he landed the role of Dan Tanna in the crime drama series Vega$. It aired on ABC from 1978 to 1981, and earned him two Golden Globe Award nominations. In addition to his work in television, he also starred in several feature films, including Magnum Force (1973), The Ice Pirates (1984), and Turk 182 (1985). From 1985 to 1988, he portrayed the title role in the detective television series Spenser: For Hire, based on Robert B. Parker's popular series of mystery novels. In 1988, he began hosting the documentary series National Geographic Explorer. He won a CableACE Award for his work on the series. He was also awarded a Golden Boot Award for his work in Western television series and films.

In 1996, Urich starred in the The Lazarus Man. It was canceled shortly after he announced that he was diagnosed with synovial cell sarcoma, a rare cancer, in July 1996. He sought treatment for his illness while continuing his career and also worked to raise money for cancer research. He was declared cancer free in 1998 and returned to television in the UPN series, The Love Boat: The Next Wave. In 2000, he made his Broadway debut as Billy Flynn in the musical Chicago.

Urich's last role was in the NBC sitcom Emeril in 2001. In fall 2001, his cancer returned. He died of synovial cell sarcoma in Thousand Oaks, California, in 2002 at the age of 55.

Early life

Urich was born in Toronto, Ohio, the son of Cecilia Monica (Halpate) and John Paul Urich.[2] He was of Rusyn and Slovak extraction and raised Byzantine Catholic[3] and Roman Catholic.[4]

Urich attended Florida State University on a football scholarship, and was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. In 1968, he earned a bachelor's degree in Radio and Television Communications. He went on to Michigan State University after working in Ohio to earn a master's degree in Broadcast Research and Management. He then worked as a salesman in Chicago at WGN-TV. He later worked as a weatherman.[5]

After appearing in a production of The Rainmaker with Burt Reynolds, Urich decided to pursue acting full-time after Reynolds encouraged him to move to Los Angeles.[6]



Urich made his television debut in a guest starring role in The F.B.I., in 1972. The following year, he won a lead role in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. It was an adaptation of the 1969 film of the same name. It struggled in the ratings and was canceled after six episodes. He made his film debut later that same year opposite Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry film Magnum Force playing a vigilante motorcycle-patrol police officer.

Urich, Maureen Reagan, and Jack Hogan pose for a 1974 publicity photo for the TV show Vector.

In 1975, Urich was cast in the action/crime drama series S.W.A.T.. According to the executive producer Aaron Spelling, Burt Reynolds convinced Spelling to allow Urich to read for the part. Spelling was impressed with his reading and cast him in the role of "Officer Jim Street".[7] A mid-season replacement, it earned high enough ratings to warrant a second season. However, it was canceled in 1976 due to its violent content.[8]

Urich's next role was on the sitcom Soap as Peter the Tennis Player in 1977. That same year he was cast as Paul Thurston, a good-looking, ego driven talk show host in the Bewitched spin-off series Tabitha, starring Lisa Hartman. Its rating were initially strong, but schedule changes caused ratings to drop and it was canceled in 1978 after 13 episodes.[9] Shortly after, he was cast in another Aaron Spelling produced series Vega$. He portrayed the series' lead character, Dan Tanna, a private detective who solves crimes in Las Vegas. It was a hit for ABC and he received two Golden Globe Award nominations for his work on it. By the third season, however, he had grown tired of the role and complained about the declining quality of the writing. Ratings had also declined and it was canceled in 1981. Shortly after, he signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and decided to focus on his film career. His first film for them was Endangered Species (1982), a science fiction one directed by Alan Rudolph.[10]

Shortly after filming Endangered Species, Urich signed on to star in another series Gavilan. He starred as the title character who was a former CIA agent turned oceanographer. It was canceled after seven episodes. In 1984, he starred in two more films The Ice Pirates, and Wes Craven's Invitation to Hell. The following year, Urich co-starred in Turk 182. It was a box office failure and he was nominated for Golden Raspberry Award.

In 1985, Urich returned to episodic television as the title character in Spenser: For Hire. It was another hit for Urich and aired for three seasons. He reprised the role in several television films after it was canceled: Spenser: Ceremony (1993), Spenser: Pale Kings and Princes (1994), Spenser: The Judas Goat (1994), and Spenser: A Savage Place (1995). In 1988, he began hosting the documentary series National Geographic Explorer. He won a CableACE Award for his work on the series. In 1989, he portrayed Jake Spoon, in the acclaimed television miniseries Lonesome Dove, a role for which he received many positive reviews.


In the 1990s, Urich mainly appeared in television films and several short-lived television series. From 1990 to 1991, he starred in the sitcom American Dreamer. The following year, he starred in Crossroads, a drama series that aired on ABC for ten episodes. In 1993, he and Faye Dunaway starred in the sitcom It Had to Be You. It was critically panned and canceled after four episodes. In 1995, he narrated an extremely rare one-night showing of a Disney television documentary called "Alien Encounters: From New Tomorrowland". It has never been shown again. In 1996, he starred in the TNT western series The Lazarus Man. It earned strong enough ratings to be picked up for a second season but shortly after it was renewed, he announced he had been diagnosed with synovial cell sarcoma. Its production company, Castle Rock Entertainment, opted to cancel it due to that.[11] In 1999, he commented on their choice to do so, "There's really a law against what they did. They found out I had cancer, and they just canceled the show. They didn't ask the doctors if I could work. They didn't ask if I could go back to work."[12] In 2000, he sued them for breach of contract.[13] The lawsuit was later settled with both parties agreeing not to publicly disclose the terms of the settlement.[14]

While undergoing cancer treatments, Urich hosted the medical documentary series Vital Signs in 1997 and the PBS series Boatworks.[15] After a year of treatment, he was declared cancer-free and returned to television in 1998 as Captain Jim Kennedy III in The Love Boat: The Next Wave. It aired on UPN for two seasons. In 2000, he made his Broadway debut as Billy Flynn in the musical Chicago.[16] and also was in the North American tour of the musical, in 1999 and in 2000.[17][18][19] The next year, he costarred in Emeril, a sitcom starring celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. While it was critically panned, he received good notices for his work on it. It would be his last role in a television series.

Urich's final television film, Night of the Wolf, aired on Animal Planet the night before his death.[14]

Personal life

Marriages and children

Urich's first marriage was to actress Barbara Rucker in 1968. They divorced in 1974. He married actress Heather Menzies in 1975. They adopted three children, Ryan, Emily, and Allison. They remained married until his death in 2002.[4]

Illness and death

In July 1996, Urich announced he had been diagnosed with synovial cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks soft tissue. He continued working while undergoing treatment for his illness and also became an advocate for finding a cure for cancer. He won an award from the John Wayne Cancer Institute and the Gilda Radner Courage Award for his work raising cancer awareness.[12] He and Menzies also founded the Urich Fund for the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center to raise funds for cancer research. He also donated the $125,000 he won when he appeared on an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.[14] He was declared cancer free in 1998. That same year, he was named the national spokesperson for the American Cancer Society.[5]

In November 2001, Urich revealed in an interview that his doctors had discovered lumps in his body but "a wonder drug had cleared them up".[14] The week before his death, he was hospitalized at Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks for breathing problems. He died there on April 16, 2002.[20][21] His funeral mass was offered on April 19 at St. Charles Borromeo Church in North Hollywood.[5] He was cremated and his ashes were buried on the grounds of his family's vacation home in Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada.


Before his death, Urich and Menzies established the Robert and Heather Urich Fund for Sarcoma Research at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. She has also battled cancer and is an ovarian cancer survivor. Menzies continues to work for the center.

Urich's hometown of Toronto, Ohio, named the Robert Urich Interchange in his honor. It connects the town to Ohio State Route 7.

Before his death, Urich and Menzies helped to raise money for the Eccles Performing Arts Centers at the Park City High School in Park City, UT. After his death, the school established the Robert Urich Scholarship fund in his honor.[22]

For his contribution to the television industry, Urich has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 7083 Hollywood Blvd.[1] He is the only person with a surname starting with the letter U on there.[23][24][25]


Year Title Role Notes
1973 Magnum Force Mike Grimes
1982 Endangered Species Ruben Castle
1984 The Ice Pirates Jason
1984 Invitation to Hell Matt Winslow
1985 Turk 182 Terry Lynch
1988 April Morning Joseph Credit at beginning only
1989 Dragon Fight Airport police
1992 Jock: A True Tale of Friendship Rocky Alternative title: Jock of the Bushveld
1992 "Revolver" Nick Clayton
1995 Young Again Michael Riley, Age 40
1996 The Angel of Pennsylvania Avenue Angus Feagan
2002 Clover Bend Bill
Year Title Role Notes
1972 The F.B.I. Davie Stroud Episode: "The Runner"
1973 Kung Fu Greg Dundee Episode: "Blood Brother"
1973 Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law Episode: "A Girl Named Tham"
1973 Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice Bob Sanders 12 episodes
1973 Marcus Welby, M.D. Mike Lowry Episode: "Death Is Only a Side Effect"
1974 Killdozer! Mack McCarthy Television film
1974 Nakia Episode: "A Beginning in the Wilderness"
1975 The Specialists Dr. William Nugent Television film
Credited as Robert York
1975 Gunsmoke Manolo Etchahoun Episode: "Manolo"
1975-1976 S.W.A.T. Officer Jim Street 37 episodes
1977 Bunco Walker Television film
1977 Soap Peter the Tennis Player 8 episodes
1977-1978 Tabitha Paul Thurston 12 episodes
1977-1978 The Love Boat Various roles 3 episodes
1978 Charlie's Angels Dan Tanna Episode: "Angels in Vegas"
1978-1981 Vega$ Dan Tanna 69 episodes
1979 When She Was Bad... Bob Morgan Television film
1980 The Shadow Box Television film
1980 Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story Rocky Bleier Television film
1980 Killing at Hell's Gate Charles Duke Television film
1982 The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour Episode #1.2
1982 Take Your Best Shot Jess Marriner Television film
1982-1983 Gavilan Robert Gavilan 7 episodes
1983 Princess Daisy Patrick Shannon TV miniseries
1984 Mistral's Daughter Jason Darcy TV miniseries
1984 His Mistress Allen Beck Television film
1985 Scandal Sheet Ben Rowan Television film
1985-1988 Spenser: For Hire Spenser 65 episodes
1986 The Defiant Ones Johnny "Joker" Johnson Television film
1986 The Disney Sunday Movie Michael Riley, Age 40 Episode: "Young Again"
1987 Amerika Peter Bradford Miniseries
1988 Cheers Himself Miniseries
1988 Hallmark Hall of Fame Joseph Simmons Episode: "April Morning"
1989 The Comeback Scotty Malloy Television film
1989 She Knows Too Much Harry Television film
1989 Lonesome Dove Jake Spoon Miniseries
1989 Night Walk Simon Television film
1989 Spooner Harry Spooner/Michael Norlon Television film
1990 Blind Faith Rob Marshall Television miniseries
1990 A Quiet Little Neighborhood, a Perfect Little Murder Ross Pegler Television film
1990 83 Hours 'Til Dawn Bradley Burdock Television film
1990 Carol & Company Mr. Carmen Episode: "Teacher, Teacher"
1990-1991 American Dreamer Tom Nash 17 episodes
1991 Stranger at My Door Joe Fortier Television film
1991 ...And Then She Was Gone Jack Bauer Television film
1992 Survive the Savage Sea Jack Carpenter Television film
1992 Blind Man's Bluff Thomas Booker Television film
1992 Double Edge Harry Carter Television film
Alternative title: Hit Woman
1992 Revolver Nick Suster Television film
1992-1993 Crossroads Johnny Hawkins 9 episodes
1993 Evening Shade Steve Episode: "Frieda and the Preacher"
1993 Deadly Relations Leonard J. Fagot Television film
1993 Spenser: Ceremony Spenser Television film
1993 It Had to Be You Mitch Quinn 6 episodes
1994 Spenser: Pale Kings and Princes Spenser Television film
1994 To Save the Children Jake Downey Television film
1994 A Perfect Stranger Alex Hale Television film
1994 Spenser: The Judas Goat Spenser Television film
1995 Alien Encounters: From New Tomorrowland Narrator Disney Television documentary
1995 Spenser: A Savage Place Spenser Television film
1995 A Horse for Danny Eddie Fortuna Television film
1995 She Stood Alone: The Tailhook Scandal Adm. Williams Television film
1996 Captains Courageous Capt. Matthew Troop Television film
1996 The Lazarus Man Lazarus (James Cathcart) 20 episodes
1997 The Nanny Judge Jerry Moran Episode: "Samson, He Denied Her"
1997 Final Descent Capt. Glen (Lucky) Singer Television film
1998 Invasion America Briggs Unknown episodes
1998-1999 The Love Boat: The Next Wave Captain Jim Kennedy III 25 episodes
1999 Final Run Glen "Lucky" Singer Television film
1999 Miracle on the 17th Green Mitch McKinley Television film
2001 Late Boomers Dennis Television film
2001 For Love of Olivia Horton Roundtree Television film
2001 Emeril Jerry McKenney 10 episodes
2001 Aftermath Jack Television film
2002 The President's Man: A Line in the Sand President Adam Mayfield Television film
2002 Night of the Wolf Purly Owens Television film


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  19. Jones, Kenneth. New Tour of Chicago Begins Oct. 6–7 in CT; Chita Will Join Troupe", October 5, 2000
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  23. "2015 honorees". Retrieved January 8, 2015. External link in |website= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "LA Times List". Retrieved January 8, 2015. External link in |website= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. List of stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame#U
  26. Netflix

External links