MEXICO CITY -- U.S. Ambassador John Gavin, the former film actor whose appointment by President Reagan stirred heated controversy, said Monday he is resigning to return to private life.
The surprise announcement came five years after Gavin -- known for his role in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller 'Psycho' -- was named ambassador to Mexico by Reagan, his good friend and former Hollywood colleague.
'It has been a splendid challenge to represent you and our people in what is, perhaps, our most important bilateral relationship,' Gavin said in a letter to Reagan read to reporters at the U.S. Embassy.
'Much has been accomplished during this period. We have assisted Mexico in times of crisis,' Gavin said in the letter. 'I believe, however, that I have accomplished the major task you set for me, and the time has come for me to return to the private sector and meet new challenges.
'I will depart my post on or about the 15th of May 1986.'
Embassy officials said they had no word on Gavin's replacement.
Gavin's 1981 appointment sparked widespread criticism in Mexico and editorials calling for the appointment of Mexican comedian Mario Moreno 'Cantinflas' to Washington.
Also during his five-year tenure, Gavin was criticized for meeting with opposition political parties and for staunchly defending Reagan's hardline anti-communist Central American policies.
'The decision to leave Mexico has been a difficult one for me to make,' said Gavin, who turns 55 Tuesday. 'Especially as the president has asked me to stay on through the end of his administration.'
The ambassador thanked President Miguel de la Madrid and Cabinet officials for 'the constant direct access' during his tenure in Mexico at the United States government's largest embassy.
'Our dealings, even when we have discussed issues, have always been candid, amicable and mutually respectful. No less, of course, is to be expected of the representatives of two great and friendly nations.'
The ambassador's job was the first diplomatic post for Gavin, who spent most of his career as an actor.
Among Gavin's movies were 'Imitation of Life,' 'Psycho,' 'Back Street,' 'Heidi,' 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' and 'Spartacus.' In 'Psycho,' Gavin played the character of Sam Loomis, the boyfriend of Lila, who came to investigate her sister's murder. He was also once known as the spokesman for Bacardi rum on television commercials.
Gavin's mother, born in the nothern Mexican state of Sonora, taught him Spanish as a child and he had perfect fluency in the language.
While serving as ambassador, Gavin sparked a love-hate relationship with both foreign and local journalists. At a 1983 news conference, Gavin scolded reporters for not showing 'respect' by standing when he entered the room. At all subsequent news briefings, aides warned reporters to not make the same mistake again.
Gavin is married to actress Constance Mary Towers. They have four children.