Robert Culp

Robert Culp

HOLLYWOOD -- Actor Robert Culp, best known for his role as a secret agent in the 1960's TV series "I Spy" died Wednesday after falling outside his Hollywood home. He was 79.

Lt. Bob Binder of the LAPD"s Hollywood division says Culp fell while on his daily walk near his home on the 1800 block El Cerrito Place.

"He was found on the pavement and had apparently hit his head," Lt. Binder said. Culp was rushed to Queen of Angels hospital shortly after 11 a.m. Culp was discovered by a jogger who called 911.

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.

"There doesn't appear to be any sign of foul play, but we won't know the exact cause of death until an autopsy is performed," Lt. Binder said.

"I Spy," which aired from 1965 to 1968, was a television milestone.

Its combination of humor and adventure broke new ground, and it was the first integrated television show to feature a black actor -- Bill Cosby -- in a starring role.

Culp first came to national attention very early in his career as the star of the 1957-59 Western television series "Trackdown" in which he played Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman.

"Trackdown" was a spin-off of Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, also on CBS.

After his series ended in 1959, Culp continued to work in television, including a guest-starring role as Stewart Douglas in the 1960 episode "So Dim the Light" of CBS's anthology series, The DuPont Show with June Allyson.

He appeared too on the NBC anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show. Moreover, Culp was cast as Captain Shark in a first season episode of NBC's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964).

Among his more memorable performances were in three episodes of the science-fiction anthology series The Outer Limits (1963-1965), including the classic "Demon with a Glass Hand", written by Harlan Ellison.

In the 1961-1962 season, he guest starred on ABC's crime drama Target: The Corruptors!.

In the 1962-1963 season, he guest starred in NBC's modern Western series Empire starring Richard Egan. In the episode, he got into a boxing match with series co-star Ryan O'Neal.

Culp was best known for playing secret agent Kelly Robinson, who masqueraded as a professional tennis player, for three years on the hit NBC series "I Spy" (1965-68), with co-star Bill Cosby.

Culp wrote the scripts for seven episodes, one of which he also directed.

One episode earned him an Emmy nomination for writing.

For all three years of the series he was also nominated for an acting Emmy (Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series category), but lost each time to Cosby.

He played a murderer in three separate Columbo episodes. Prior to that, he, Peter Falk, Robert Wagner and Darren McGavin each stepped in to take turns with Anthony Franciosa's rotation of NBC's series The Name of the Game after Franciosa was fired, alternating a lead role of the lavish 90-minute show about the magazine business with Gene Barry and Robert Stack.

In 1981 he got his big break back into the television realm when he starred in The Greatest American Hero, he played tough-as-nails-by-the-book-FBI Agent Bill Maxwell who gets teamed up with a special education teacher named Ralph Hinkley after Ralph receives a supersuit with special powers from aliens delivered by a flying saucer.

That show only lasted three years ending in 1983 but the character of Bill Maxwell will always be remembered by some Culp fans.

He reprised the role in a voice-over role on the stop-motion sketch comedy Robot Chicken.

In 1987, he reunited with Bill Cosby, this time on The Cosby Show, playing Dr. Cliff Huxtable's old friend Scott Kelly.

The name was a combination of their I Spy characters' names.

One of his most recent recurring roles was a part on Everybody Loves Raymond as Warren Whelan, Ray's father-in-law.

He appeared on episodes of many other television programs including a 1961 season three episode of "Bonanza" titled Broken Ballad, as well as The Golden Girls, The Nanny, The Girls Next Door and Wings.