OBITUARY: Robert Culp 1930-2010

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Genre actor Robert Culp has died. He was 79.

In addition to a zillion 'straight' non-genre roles, Culp first achieved genre fame with his role in "Demon with a Glass Hand," one of the most famous episodes of The Outern Limits, as well as the episode that introduced the Bradbury Building - now a cinematic staple - to mass audiences. That episode was written by Harlan Ellison, and was eventually the uncredited genesis of the Terminator franchise.

Following a guest appearance on "The Man From U.N.C.L.E," Culp got the costaring lead on "I-Spy," one of the better espionage series of the day, and one of the few that avoided diving headlong into fullscale Spy-Fi silliness. This show was particularly noteworthy for being the first American show to co-star a black man (Bill Cosby) as a lead character, and show him working side-by-side as an equal with the white character. Culp and Cosby remained life-long friends, and Culp made fairly frequent guest-staring roles on all of Cosby's TV series, most notably as Cliff Huxtable's Korean War buddy and best friend in the '80s. An attempt to revive I-Spy in the '90s on TV failed.

Though not commonly known, Culp was the first choice to play Commander John Koenig on Space: 1999, but negotiations fell apart at the last minute, and they went with Martin Landau instead. There is also a persistent rumor that he was one of three finalists for the part of Captain Kirk, but that's an urban legend. As far as I've been able to find, he never even tried out for the part.

For people of my generation, Culp is probably best known for his gleefully manic paranoid character, Bill Maxwell, on "The Greatest American Hero." Maxwell was intended to provide a right-wing foil for William Katt's entirely-to-seventies character, but Culp's hillariously over-the-top America Uber Alles performance ended up being the most memorable character on the show, frequently overshadowing the star (Through no fault of his own, and completely catching the spirit of the nascent decade.

He's survived his wife Candace, five children and four ex-wives.

Our prayers go out for his soul and for his family.