Bob May, who donned The Robot’s suit in the hit 1960s television show “Lost in Space,” has died. He was 69.
May died Sunday of congestive heart failure at a hospital in Lancaster, said his daughter, Deborah May.
He was a veteran actor and stuntman who had appeared in movies, TV shows and on the vaudeville stage when he was tapped by “Lost in Space” creator Irwin Allen to play the Robinson family’s loyal metal sidekick in the series that debuted in 1965.
“He always said he got the job because he fit in the robot suit,” said June Lockhart, who played family matriarch Maureen Robinson. “It was one of those wonderful Hollywood stories. He just happened to be on the studio lot when someone saw him and sent him to see Irwin Allen about the part. Allen said, ‘If you can fit in the suit, you’ve got the job.”’
Although May didn’t provide the robot’s distinctive voice (that was done by announcer Dick Tufeld), he developed a following of fans who sought him out at memorabilia shows.
“Lost in Space” was a space-age retelling of “The Swiss Family Robinson” story in which professor John Robinson, his wife and their children were on a space mission when their craft was knocked hopelessly off course by the evil Dr. Zachary Smith, who became trapped in space with them.
May’s robot was the Robinson family’s loyal sidekick, warning them of approaching disaster at every turn. His line to one of the children, “Danger, Will Robinson,” became a national catch phrase.
The grandson of famed vaudeville comedian Chic Johnson, May was introduced to show business at age 2 when he began appearing in the “Hellzapoppin” comedy revue with Johnson and his partner, Ole Olsen.
He went on to appear in numerous films with Jerry Lewis and in such TV shows as “The Time Tunnel,” “McHale’s Navy and “The Red Skelton Show.” He was also a stuntman in such 1950s and ‘60s TV shows as “Cheyenne,” “Surfside 6,” “Hawaiian Eye,” “The Roaring 20s” and “Stagecoach.”
He was particularly fond of his Robot role, once saying he came to consider the suit a “home away from home.”
Lockhart said May wore the suit for hours at a time and learned the lines of every actor in the show so he would know when to respond to their cues. Because it wasn’t easy to get in and out of the suit, he kept it on during breaks.
“He was a smoker,” Lockhart remembered. “From time to time (when he was on a break), we’d see smoke coming out of the robot. That always amused us.”
May and his wife lost their house in November when a wildfire destroyed their upscale mobile home park in the San Fernando Valley.
Survivors include his wife Judith; his daughter; his son, Martin; and four grandchildren.
Funeral services are pending.