Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  April 17, 2002 at 6:19 PM
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HOLLYWOOD, April 17 (UPI) -- Robert Urich was a unique individual who happened to be an actor but who was, first and last, a man in the best sense of the word.

He believed his highest achievement was being a good father and devoted husband. He enjoyed the company of his family above all else in life.

Urich never thought of himself as being a public figure and preferred to talk about his three youngsters and their attainments, his home and garden. He adored his wife, actress Heather Menzies.

Bob Urich was a difficult man to interview from a reporter's standpoint because he wasn't inclined to talk about himself or his thoughts about world problems -- and least of all, his roles and acting.

Often newsmen would find themselves answering Urich's questions about themselves.

He was perhaps the most popular actor in town. He made himself available to the media but did not seek publicity.

His longtime friend and mentor, Burt Reynolds, once said of Urich, "Bob never has a bad word to say about anybody."

Conversely, no one ever had a negative word to say about Robert Urich.

Women, including the actresses with whom he worked, found him charming and attentive, always a gentleman and easy to talk to on the set.

Clearly, Urich did not consider himself a "star" and he never behaved like the prototype, swaggering movie or TV celebrity making demands or posturing among his contemporaries.

Yes, Urich was handsome and had a muscular physique on his 6-foot-2 frame but his hair could always stand combing and he looked better without makeup than he did when he was ready for the camera.

In one interview during his run in "Vegas" (1978), his first hit TV series, when Urich was asked how he prepared for his role as tough detective Dan Tanna, Urich looked surprised.

"I don't think about things like that," he replied. "I memorize a scene and follow the director's instructions. I do what I think Tanna would do in the circumstances.

"The character is a tough guy. I'm not. But it's fun to convince myself that I can walk up to some really miserable troublemakers and stare them down.

"I wouldn't want to try it myself," he added, laughing. "I'd probably get my clock cleaned."

Urich was that sort of man, as unlike, say, Sylvester Stallone or Alec Baldwin as an actor could well be.

"What I do is try to keep in good shape so I can be believable in the parts I play," he said.

In a career that spanned some 30 years, Urich worked in 15 series and more than 50 other TV projects along with the movies "Ice Pirates," "Cloverbend" and "Turk 182."

He was primarily a TV performer, starring in such movies as "Captains Courageous," "Lonesome Dove," "Stranger at My Door" and "Miracle on the 17th Green." His last assignment was in "Night of the Wolf."

Urich was perhaps best known for his role as the brainy Boston detective in "Spenser for Hire" (1985-88) a highly regarded crime series in which he played an urbane sophisticate.

It wasn't until he fell victim to synovial cell sarcoma, a relatively rare form of cancer, in 1996 that Urich's valiant character and sense of community responsibility became apparent to all.

He refused to conceal his fatal disease but launched a campaign to raise money to fight cancer and to become a spokesman for hope and courage.

He effectively devoted himself to addressing groups of cancer victims, appealing to them to take heart, to live in the moment and to embrace the joy of life.

Urich believed his positive attitude and personal example would help lead the way in encouraging other cancer sufferers to make the most of their time to work for good and to never lose faith in themselves.

He set an example of courage and dignity for Heather and his three children, Allison, Ryan and Emily, who were the lights of his life.

All the while Urich worked at his craft, including his final TV series, a western titled "The Lazarus Man."

His fighting spirit never deserted him. He sued Castle Rock Television, producer of the show, which canceled the series because of his illness.

Urich announced he would be able to fulfill his contract and work in the show despite the cancer.

He told the Los Angeles Times, "I think my longevity has a lot to do with where I come from -- a blue collar town in Ohio -- and how I was raised: to work hard and respect other folks.

"I know it sounds hokey, but I think ultimately, on TV you can't hide who you are."

That certainly applied to Robert Urich. He was the real article to the moment of his death at 55 Tuesday morning.

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