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'I Spy' star Robert Culp dies at age 79

Robert Culp, right, starred alongside Bill Cosby as a team of American agents in the 1960s series I Spy.

Associated Press

Robert Culp, right, starred alongside Bill Cosby as a team of American agents in the 1960s series I Spy.

LOS ANGELES — Robert Culp, the actor who teamed with Bill Cosby in the racially groundbreaking TV series I Spy and was Bob in the critically acclaimed sex comedy Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, died Wednesday after collapsing outside his Hollywood home, his agent said. Mr. Culp was 79.

His manager, Hillard Elkins, said the actor was on a walk when he fell. He was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead just before noon. The actor's son was told he died of a heart attack, Elkins said, though police were unsure if the fall was medically related.

Los Angeles police Lt. Robert Binder said no foul play was suspected. Binder said a jogger found Mr. Culp, who apparently fell and struck his head.

Mr. Culp had been working on writing screenplays, Elkins said.

I Spy, which aired from 1965 to 1968, was a television milestone in more ways than one. Its combination of humor and adventure broke new ground, and it was the first integrated television show to feature a black actor in a starring role.

Mr. Culp played Kelly Robinson, a spy whose cover was that of an ace tennis player. (In real life, he actually was a top-notch tennis player who showed his skills in numerous celebrity tournaments). Cosby was fellow spy Alexander Scott, whose cover was that of Mr. Culp's trainer. The pair traveled the world in the service of the U.S. government.

Mr. Culp and Cosby and forged a lifelong friendship. Cosby said on Wednesday that Mr. Culp was like an older brother to him.

"The first born in every family is always dreaming of the older brother or sister he or she doesn't have, to protect, to be the buffer, provide the wisdom, shoulder the blows and make things right," he said. "Bob was the answer to my dreams.

"No matter how many mistakes I made on I Spy, he was always there to teach and protect me," Cosby said.

Mr. Culp followed I Spy with his most prestigious film role, in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. The work of first-time director Paul Mazursky, who also co-wrote the screenplay, it lampooned the lifestyles of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Bob and Carol (Mr. Culp and Natalie Wood) were the innocent ones who were introduced to wife-swapping by their best friends, Ted and Alice (Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon).

Mr. Culp also had starring roles in such films as The Castaway Cowboy, Goldengirl, Turk 182! and Big Bad Mama II.

In the 1980s, he starred as an FBI agent in the fantasy The Greatest American Hero.

Mr. Culp was married five times and had four children.

'I Spy' star Robert Culp dies at age 79 03/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 9:42pm]
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