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Robert Martin Culp (August 16, 1930 – March 24, 2010) was an American actor, scriptwriter, voice actor and director, widely known for his work in television.[1] Culp earned an international reputation for his role as Kelly Robinson on I Spy (1965–1968), the espionage series in which he and co-star Bill Cosby played a pair of secret agents.[2]

Personal life

Culp was born in Oakland, California, and was graduated from Berkeley High School[3], where he was a pole vaulter, taking second place at the 1947 CIF California State Meet.[4] He attended the College of the Pacific, Washington University in St. Louis, San Francisco State College, and the University of Washington School of Drama, but never completed an academic degree. Culp married five times and was the father of three sons, Joshua (1958), Jason (1961) and Joseph (1963), and two daughters, Rachel (1964) and Samantha (1982).[2] From 1967 to 1970, he was married to Eurasian actress France Nuyen, whom he had met when she guest-starred on I Spy. She appeared in four episodes, two of them written by Culp himself. Culp wrote scripts for a total of seven episodes, one of which he also directed. He also wrote scripts for other television series, including Trackdown and The Rifleman.

Television performances

Culp first came to national attention very early in his career as the star of the 1957–1959 Western television series Trackdown, in which he played Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman.[3] Trackdown was a spin-off of Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, also on CBS. Culp's character was introduced in an episode titled "Badge of Honor". Culp later appeared in two other episodes of Zane Grey Theater — "Morning Incident" and "Calico Bait" (both 1960) playing different roles. Trackdown then had a CBS spin-off of its own: Wanted: Dead or Alive, with Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall.

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 also appeared 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 then played secret agent Kelly Robinson, who operated undercover as a touring tennis professional, 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 the special guest murderer in three separate Columbo episodes and appeared in a fourth episode. 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 1973, Culp almost took the male lead in the tv sci-fi series Space: 1999. During negotiations with creator and executive producer Gerry Anderson, Culp expressed himself to be not only an asset as an actor, but also as a director and producer for the proposed series. The part went to Martin Landau.[5]

He co-starred in The Greatest American Hero as tough FBI Agent Bill Maxwell, who teams up with a high school teacher who receives superpowers from extraterrestrials. The show lasted three years from 1981 to 1983.[3] He reprised the role in a voice-over on the stop-motion sketch comedy Robot Chicken.

In 1987, he reunited with Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show, playing Dr. Cliff Huxtable's old friend Scott Kelly. The name was a combination of their I Spy characters' names.

When contract negotiations with Larry Hagman over his character, J.R. Ewing, on the TV series Dallas faltered, it was rumored that Culp was ready to step into the role. However, this turned out to be untrue. Culp said in interviews that he was never contacted by anyone from Dallas about the part. He was working on The Greatest American Hero at the time and stated that he would not have left his role as Maxwell even if it had been offered.

Culp also had a recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond as Warren Whelan, the father of Debra Barone and father-in-law of Ray Barone. He appeared on episodes of 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. He was the voice of the character Halcyon Renard in the Disney adventure cartoon Gargoyles.

In I Spy Returns (1994), a nostalgic television movie, Culp and Cosby reprised their roles as Robinson and Scott for the first time since 1968.

Film performances

Culp worked as an actor in many theatrical films, beginning with three in 1963: As naval officer John F. Kennedy's good friend Ensign George Ross in PT 109, as legendary gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok in The Raiders and as the debonair fiance of Jane Fonda in the romantic comedy Sunday in New York.

He went on to star in the provocative Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice in 1969, probably the height of his movie career. Another memorable role came as another gunslinger, Thomas Luther Price, in Hannie Caulder (1971) opposite Raquel Welch. A year later, Hickey & Boggs reunited him with Cosby for the first time since I Spy. Culp also directed this feature film, in which he and Cosby portray over-the-hill private eyes. In 1986, he had a primary role as General Woods in the comedy Combat Academy.

Culp played the U.S. President in Alan J. Pakula's 1994 murder mystery The Pelican Brief starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts. In all, Culp gave hundreds of performances in a career spanning more than 50 years.

Other appearances

Culp lent his voice to the digital character Doctor Breen, the prime antagonist in the 2004 computer game Half-Life 2. This was not his first video game role, however: he also appeared in the 1993 game Voyeur.

The video clip of "Guilty Conscience" features Culp as an erudite and detached narrator describing the scenes where Eminem and Dr Dre rap lyrics against each other. He only appears in the music video. In the album version, the narrator is Richard "Segal" Heredia.

On November 9, 2007 on The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly interviewed Culp about the actor's career and awarded Culp with the distinction "TV Icon of the Week".

Selected filmography

  • The Assignment (2010 film) as Blakesley
  • Robot Chicken as Bill Maxwell / Sheriff of Nottingham (1 episode, 2007)
  • Half-Life 2: Episode One (2006) (VG) (voice) as Dr. Wallace Breen
  • Santa's Slay (2005) as Grandpa
  • Early Bird (2005) (TV)
  • Half-Life 2 (2004) (VG) (voice) as Dr. Wallace Breen
  • The Almost Guys (2004) as The Colonel
  • The Dead Zone as Jeffrey Grissom (1 episode, 2003)
  • Blind Eye (2003) (V) as Isaac
  • Farewell, My Love (2001) as Michael Reilly
  • Hunger (2001 film) (2001) as The Chief
  • Eminem: E (2000) (V) as Narrator (segment "Guilty Conscience")
  • Running Mates (2000) (TV) as Sen. Parker Gable
  • NewsBreak (2000) as Judge McNamara
  • Chicago Hope as Benjamin Quinn (1 episode, 2000)
  • Dark Summer (2000) as Judge Winston
  • Cosby as Kelly Robinson (1 episode, 1999)
  • Wanted (1999/I) as Fr. Patrick
  • Unconditional Love (1999) as Karl Thomassen
  • Holding the Baby (1 episode, 1998)
  • Conan (television series) as King Vog (1 episode, 1998)
  • Sky Riders (1976)


The 79-year-old Culp often went hiking at Runyon Canyon, a park near his Hollywood Hills apartment. On the morning of March 24, 2010, Culp left the apartment to go for a walk. A jogger found him lying on the sidewalk near the lower entrance of Runyon Canyon. Police and paramedics were summoned, but were unable to revive him. Culp was pronounced dead at a little after 11:00 a.m. at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. Although initial police reports indicated that Culp died from striking his head when he fell, it was later determined that he collapsed and died due to a massive heart attack. The only injury from the fall was a minor cut on his head. On April 10, 2010, a private memorial service was held at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles with Culp's family, friends and fans attending. At the time of his death Culp had just completed filming a supporting role in The Assignment. He was working on several screenplays. One of those screenplays, an adaptation of Terry and the Pirates, had already received financing and was scheduled to begin shooting later this year in Hong Kong with Culp directing. Terry and the Pirates was Culp's favorite comic strip as a child and it was his lifelong dream to make a film based on it.[2][3][6]


  1. Obituary London Times, April 5, 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Grimes, William (March 24, 2010). "Robert Culp, Star in 'I Spy,' Dies at 79". The New York Times. Retrieved March 25, 2010. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 McLellan, Dennis (March 25, 2010). "Robert Culp dies at 79; actor starred in 'I Spy' TV series". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 25, 2010. 
  5. Starburst issue 8 (April 1979)
  6. T. Rees Shapiro (2010-03-25). "Robert Culp dead; actor conveyed charm and wit on TV's 'I Spy'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-03-25. 

External links

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