'Night Stalker' Star Darren McGavin Dies

Los Angeles Times

Darren McGavin, an Emmy-winning actor who worked almost constantly in television for almost 50 years and made an enduring mark on popular culture as the grizzled has-been crime reporter in the 1970s series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," has died. He was 83.

McGavin, who also is remembered for portraying the curmudgeonly father in the 1983 film "A Christmas Story," died of natural causes Saturday at a Los Angeles-area hospital, his family said.

Although he had roots on stage and in film, long-term success came on the small screen, often in the form of gruff-voiced authority figures. One such role — the opinionated father of Candice Bergen on "Murphy Brown" (CBS, 1988 to 1998) — earned him an Emmy nomination in 1990.

McGavin starred in several TV series, including the syndicated "Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer" (1957 to 1959), "Riverboat" (NBC, 1959 to 1961), "The Outsider" (NBC, 1968 to 1969) and the short-lived CBS comedy "Small & Frye" (1983).

He first played fast-talking Carl Kolchak in "The Night Stalker," a TV movie about a reporter covering a vampire's killing spree in Las Vegas. When it first aired in 1972, the movie set a ratings record.

It was followed by a 1973 sequel, "The Night Strangler." The ABC series that seemed to captivate a generation of future sci-fi scriptwriters aired for a single season beginning in 1974.

The "Night Stalker" movies and series have been credited with inspiring contemporary entertainment, including the WB series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the 1997 film "Men in Black." Writer-producer Chris Carter has often cited Kolchak as the primary inspiration for "The X-Files."

On the big screen, McGavin first received notice in two 1955 films for portraying a young artist in Venice in David Lean's "Summertime" and Frank Sinatra's drug supplier in Otto Preminger's "The Man With The Golden Arm." He also was Jerry Lewis' parole officer in "The Delicate Delinquent" (1957) and a gambler in 1984's "The Natural."

He starred alongside Don Knotts, who died Friday, in the 1976 family comedy "No Deposit, No Return."

In "A Christmas Story," McGavin played the narrator's father who grumbles his fair share of profanity. Other memorable roles included playing Gen. George Patton in the 1979 miniseries "Ike," and appearing alongside Rock Hudson in the sci-fi miniseries "The Martian Chronicles."

Survivors include his four children — Bogart, Bridget, Megan and York — from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. His second wife, the actress Kathie Browne McGavin, died in 2003.

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