Robert Urich

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Robert Urich
Urich in 1973
Robert Michael Urich

(1946-12-19)December 19, 1946
DiedApril 16, 2002(2002-04-16) (aged 55)
Resting placePrince Edward County, Ontario, Canada
Other namesRobert York
Alma materFlorida State University
Michigan State University
Occupation(s)Actor, producer
Years active1972–2002
  • Barbara Rucker
    (m. 1968; div. 1974)
  • (m. 1975)

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 co-starring role in the action/crime drama series S.W.A.T. in 1975. In 1978, he landed the lead role of Dan Tanna in the crime drama series Vega$, which aired on ABC from 1978 to June 1981, and earned him two Golden Globe Award nominations. In addition to his work in television, Urich also co 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 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 1993, he won an Emmy, for narrating a nature documentary. He revealed on The Late Show with David Letterman, he never knew about his nomination and win. It was sent by FedEx to his home.

In 1996, Urich starred in The Lazarus Man. It was canceled shortly after he announced that he had been diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare cancer, in July that year. 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, Love Boat: The Next Wave. In 2000, he made his Broadway debut as Billy Flynn in the musical Chicago. His last role was in the NBC sitcom Emeril in 2001, but in the autumn of that year, his cancer returned and he died in April 2002 at age 55.

Early life[edit]

Urich was born and raised in Toronto, Ohio, the son of John Paul and Cecilia Monica (née Halpate) Urich.[2] He was of Rusyn and Slovak extraction and raised Byzantine Catholic[3] and Roman Catholic.[4] An excellent high school athlete, Urich attended Florida State University on a football scholarship. He played backup center during the 1965–66 football season, receiving only minimal playing time, 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 and earned a master's degree in Broadcast Research and Management. Urich then worked as a salesman in Chicago at WGN-TV. He later worked as a weatherman.[5]


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


Urich, Maureen Reagan, and Jack Hogan pose for a publicity photo for the TV series The Specialists, 1974

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 a television adaptation of the 1969 film of the same title. 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. 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 handsome, ego-driven talk show host in the Bewitched spin-off series Tabitha, starring Lisa Hartman. Its ratings were initially strong, but schedule changes caused ratings to drop, and the show was canceled in 1978 after 13 episodes.[9] Shortly after, he was cast in another Aaron Spelling produced series, called Vega$. Urich portrayed the series' lead character, Dan Tanna, a private detective who solves various crimes in Las Vegas. Vega$ was a hit for ABC and he received two Golden Globe Award nominations for his work on it. By the third season, ratings had started to decline, and with little network support, Vega$ was canceled at the end of the third season in June, 1981. Shortly after, Urich signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and focused on film roles. His first film for MGM was Endangered Species (1982), a science fiction film directed by Alan Rudolph.[10]

After filming Endangered Species, Urich returned to television and started in Gavilan. He played the title character who was a former CIA agent turned oceanographer. The series, however, was canceled after seven episodes. In 1984, he starred in two more films The Ice Pirates, and Wes Craven's Invitation to Hell. In 1985, Urich co-starred in the film Turk 182, although it was not a commercial success. In 1985, Urich returned to episodic television as the title character in Spenser: For Hire. It was a hit and aired for three seasons. He also 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 hosted 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 and the TV movie 83 Hours 'Til Dawn. 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 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.[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 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 and also starred in the North American tour of the musical, in 1999 and in 2000.[16][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[edit]

Marriages and children[edit]

Urich's first marriage was to actress Barbara Rucker in 1968. They divorced in 1974. He married actress Heather Menzies (1949–2017) in 1975. They adopted three children, Ryan, Emily, and Allison. They remained married until his death in 2002.[4][20]

Illness and death[edit]

In July 1996, Urich announced he had been diagnosed with synovial 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-Urich 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.[21][22] 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. A monument was placed in the West Lake Church of Christ Cemetery, which is located near the family's vacation home.


Before his death, Urich and Menzies-Urich helped to raise money for the Eccles Performing Arts Centers at the Park City High School in Park City, Utah. After his death, the school established the Robert Urich Scholarship fund in his honor.[23] In addition, Urich and Menzies-Urich established the Robert and Heather Urich Fund for Sarcoma Research at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. She also had cancer and was an ovarian cancer survivor. Menzies-Urich continued to work for the center, and died from brain cancer on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017 , surrounded by their three children.[24]

Urich's hometown of Toronto, Ohio, named the Robert Urich Interchange in his honor. It connects the town to Ohio State Route 7. For his contribution to the television industry, Urich has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 7083 Hollywood Blvd.[1] Until Usher was added, he was the only person with a name starting with the letter U on the walk.[25][26][27]


Year Title Role Notes
1973 Magnum Force Officer 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
1994 Jock of the Bushveld Jack 'Rocky Mountain Jack'
1996 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 Unknown 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 Unknown 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 Campbell, "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
1979 Password Plus Himself Game Show Participant / Celebrity Guest Star
1980 The Shadow Box Unknown Television film
1980 Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story Rocky Bleier Television film
1981 Killing at Hell's Gate Charles Duke Television film
1982 The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour Unknown Episode #1.2
1982 Take Your Best Shot Jess Marriner Television film
1982–1983 Gavilan Robert Gavilan 13 episodes
1983 Princess Daisy Patrick Shannon Miniseries
1984 Mistral's Daughter Jason Darcy 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 Episode: "Woody for Hire Meets Norman of the Apes"
1988 Hallmark Hall of Fame Joseph Simmons Episode: "April Morning"
1988-1995 National Geographic Explorer Hosts Narrator 110 episodes
1989 The Comeback Scotty Malloy Television film
1989 She Knows Too Much Harry Television film
1989 Lonesome Dove Jake Spoon Miniseries
1989 Night Walk Detective Jake Simon Television film
1989 Spooner Harry Spooner / Michael Norlon Television film
1989 Murder by Night Allan Strong 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 Admiral Williams Television film
1996 Captains Courageous Captain 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 Captain Glen 'Lucky' Singer Television film
1998 Invasion America Briggs Unknown episodes
1998–1999 Love Boat: The Next Wave Captain Jim Kennedy III 25 episodes
1999 Final Run Captain 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
2002 The President's Man: A Line in the Sand President Adam Mayfield Television film
2002 Night of the Wolf Purly Owens Television film
2002 Aftermath Jack Television film (final film role)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b King, Susan. "Hollywood Star Walk: Robert Urich". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  2. ^ "Robert Michael Urich (b. 1946)". Archived from the original on February 17, 2015. Retrieved December 25, 2017.
  3. ^ Dracut, Mary Ann Gaschnig. "Robert Urich", Carpatho-Rusyn American, Vol. XII, No. 1, 1989.
  4. ^ a b Lipton, Michael A. (April 29, 2002). "Bright Knight". People. Retrieved August 12, 2010. I was a very uptight Catholic boy who played by the rules
  5. ^ a b c "Actor Robert Urich dead at 55". CNN. April 16, 2002. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  6. ^ Huff, Richard (April 17, 2002). "Versatile, Engaging Robert Urich Mourned". New York Daily News. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  7. ^ Spelling, Aaron; Graham, Jefferson (1996). Aaron Spelling: A Prime-Time Life. St. Martin's Press. p. 86. ISBN 978-0312313449.
  8. ^ McNab, Chris (2009). Deadly Force: Firearms and American Law Enforcement, from the Wild West to the Streets of Today. Osprey Publishing. p. 126. ISBN 978-1-846-03376-6.
  9. ^ Leszczak, Bob (2012). Single Season Sitcoms, 1948-1979: A Complete Guide. McFarland. p. 178. ISBN 978-0786493050.
  10. ^ Scott, Vernon (February 19, 1982). "Snubbing TV Offers...Robert Urich Wants Movies Only". The Durant Daily Democrat. United Press International. p. 7. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  11. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle F. (June 24, 2009). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present (9 ed.). Ballantine Books. p. 776. ISBN 978-0307483201.
  12. ^ a b Thomas, George M. (November 3, 1999). "Second Chances". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  13. ^ "Urich suing over 'Lazarus Man'". The Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Wash. April 14, 2000. p. D2. Retrieved January 2, 2013.
  14. ^ a b c d Elber, Lynn (April 18, 2002). "Actor Robert Urich dies from cancer at age 55". Portsmouth Daily Times. p. B5. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  15. ^ Bark, Ed (April 17, 2002). "Actor Robert Urich, star of 14 TV series, died at age 55". Beaver County Times. p. D3. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  16. ^ O'Haire, Patricia (January 11, 2000). "'Chicago' Is Urich's Kind Of Show". New York Daily News. Retrieved May 13, 2018.
  17. ^ Jones, Kenneth (November 16, 1999). "Lewis, Urich and Visitor are New Trio in 'Chicago' Tour, in Detroit, Nov. 16–28". Playbill. Archived from the original on October 19, 2012.
  18. ^ Dillard, Sandra C. (October 17, 1999). "ALL JAZZED UP Robert Urich is keen on dancing in 'Chicago'", The Denver Post, p. H1
  19. ^ Jones, Kenneth (October 5, 2000). New Tour of Chicago Begins Oct. 6–7 in CT; Chita Will Join Troupe" Playbill. Archived October 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ "Robert Urich's Son on How His Dad's Battle With Cancer Inspired Him to Become a Doctor". Closer Weekly. December 25, 2019.
  21. ^ "Robert Urich, actor in 'Lonesome Dove', 'Spenser: For Hire', dies of cancer at 55". Lodi News-Sentinel. Associated Press. April 17, 2002. p. 7. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  22. ^ King, Susan (April 17, 2002). "Robert Urich, 55; Popular Star of 'Vega$' and 'Spenser'". Los Angeles Times. p. B10. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  23. ^ "Urich dies at age 55". Middlesboro Daily News. Associated Press. April 18, 2002. p. 3. Retrieved January 4, 2013.
  24. ^ Levin, Gary (December 25, 2017). "'Sound of Music' cast members mourn the death of Heather Menzies-Urich, who played Louisa". USA Today. Retrieved July 14, 2020.
  25. ^ Holman, Jordyn (June 14, 2014). "Hollywood Walk of Fame 2015 Honorees Revealed". Variety. Retrieved May 13, 2018.
  26. ^ "Los Angeles Times Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 8, 2015.
  27. ^ List of stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame#U

External links[edit]