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David McCallum, Star of ‘NCIS,’ Dies at 90

The popular actor played ‘Ducky’ Mallard on the hit CBS show for more than 20 years

spinner image david mccallum stars as donald ducky mallard in the cbs series ncis
Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS

David McCallum, the last remaining original cast member of NCIS, on which he played Donald “Ducky” Mallard, and a star of the 1960s No. 1 hit spy show The Man From U.N.C.L.E., died Sept. 25 in New York City at age 90.

“He was the kindest, coolest, most patient and loving father,” his son Peter McCallum said in a statement for the family. “He and his youngest grandson, Whit, 9, could often be found in the corner of a room at family parties having deep philosophical conversations.”

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A star of film (The Greatest Story Ever Told), TV and stage, he got rave reviews in each medium. Tweeted former New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley, "My heart has leapt up whenever I saw his name in credits theatrical (Joseph II, Amadeus!) or otherwise (Ducky!). Everlastingly cool."

“He was a true renaissance man,” said Peter McCallum. “He was capable of conducting a symphony orchestra and (if needed) could actually perform an autopsy.” Indeed, the actor was so obsessed with authenticity that to play NCIS’s Chief Medical Examiner Mallard, an eccentrically gifted investigator, he trained with the Los Angeles chief pathologist. McCallum told The Scotsman newspaper how marvelous it felt to “hold a heart or have it held in front of you and be shown the actual arteries on the outside — and see how tiny they are and how easy it would be to clog them!”

Born in Glasgow to cellist Dorothy Dorman and David McCallum Sr., who became conductor of the London Symphony, young David got his first standing ovation at age 8 in a Shakespeare play. “And I said: 'Hey, hey, hey, this is kinda cool!’” he recalled to The Scotsman. After a stint on British TV, he shot to fame as the Russian Illya Kuryakin, the enigmatic partner of Robert Vaughn’s Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He was dubbed “the blond Beatle,” and the 1964-68 show was so popular that once, when McCallum’s fans spotted him at Macy’s in New York, they did $25,000 worth of damage trying to reach him; mounted police had to ride in and save him. “They had to close Herald Square to get me out,” he recalled.

He found a more comfortable level of fame on NCIS and thought it fun that some called it his second shot at becoming a sex symbol.

​“Oh I hope!" he said to The Scotsman. “Anybody who can be a sex symbol in their 70s! I love it!"

Michael Weatherly, who played Special Agent Tony Dinozzo for 13 seasons alongside McCallum, posted a touching tribute to his NCIS castmate:

“David McCallum made every moment count, in life and on set. Let’s raise a jug and celebrate a funny fantastic authentic man. I’ve only got 3 autographs. Connery, Tony Bennett and McCallum. I felt the same way as Steve McQueen in this picture from The Great Escape: Wow! It’s David McCallum! No one did it better. We were lucky to have him bring us Ducky. Let’s send all the love in the world to his beautiful family. Rest In Peace David.”

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