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26th Sep 2023

David McCallum, NCIS and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. star, dies age 90

Steve Hopkins

‘As much as his fans may have loved him, those who worked side by side with David loved him that much more’

David McCallum has died aged 90.

The actor, one of the original cast members on NCIS and the 1960s hit spy drama The Man From U.N.C.L.E., died of natural causes in New York City, he son, Peter, announced late Monday.

A statement on behalf of his family remembers McCallum as “the kindest, coolest, most patient and loving father.”

“He always put family before self. He looked forward to any chance to connect with his grandchildren, and had a unique bond with each of them.

“He and his youngest grandson, Whit, 9, could often be found in the corner of a room at family parties having deep philosophical conversations.

“He was a true renaissance man – he was fascinated by science and culture and would turn those passions into knowledge. For example, he was capable of conducting a symphony orchestra and (if needed) could actually perform an autopsy, based on his decades-long studies for his role on NCIS.

“After returning from the hospital to their apartment, I asked my mother if she was OK before she went to sleep. Her answer was simply, ‘Yes. But I do wish we had had a chance to grow old together.’ She is 79, and dad just turned 90. The honesty in that emotion shows how vibrant their beautiful relationship and daily lives were, and that somehow, even at 90, Daddy never grew old.”

McCallum, who was born in Scotland, got his breakthrough role on the espionage series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., in which he played the Russian secret agent Illya Kuryakin, the partner of Robert Vaughn’s American Napoleon Solo, but his best known role was on NCIS.

The actor played the cast’s beloved father figure, chief medical examiner Donald “Ducky” Mallard, and appeared in 457 episodes of the series, which has run for 20 seasons to date. He was the last remaining original cast member.

NCIS executive producers Steven D Binder and David North paid tribute to the star, writing: “For over twenty years, David McCallum endeared himself to audiences around the world playing the wise, quirky, and sometimes enigmatic, Dr Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard.

“But as much as his fans may have loved him, those who worked side by side with David loved him that much more. He was a scholar and a gentleman, always gracious, a consummate professional, and never one to pass up a joke. From day one, it was an honour to work with him and he never let us down. He was, quite simply, a legend. He was also family and will be deeply missed.”

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of David McCallum and privileged that CBS was his home for so many years,” the network and NCIS studio CBS Studios said in a joint statement.

“David was a gifted actor and author, and beloved by many around the world. He led an incredible life, and his legacy will forever live on through his family and the countless hours on film and television that will never go away. We will miss his warmth and endearing sense of humor that lit up any room or soundstage he stepped onto, as well as the brilliant stories he often shared from a life well-lived. Our hearts go out to his wife Katherine and his entire family, and all those who knew and loved David.”

McCallum, whose parents were both professional orchestral musicians, was conscripted for National Service and served in west Africa where he was later promoted to the rank of lieutenant. He then studied at the Royal Academy of Music, and later attended Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London where Joan Collins was a classmate.

In 1963, McCallum was cast as Lieutenant-Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt (aka “Dispersal”) in The Great Escape starring Steve McQueen, and he went on to appear in the movies The Greatest Story Ever Told, Mosquito Squadron, Billy Budd, Freud and A Night to Remember.

McCallum joined NCIS in 2003 and devoted himself to the study of forensics to play Mallard, with producer Donald P Bellisario noting in 2006 that the actor’s knowledge had become so vast that he was considering making him a technical adviser on the show.

McCallum also recorded four albums in the 1960s, one of which included the song “The Edge,” which Dr. Dre sampled to create the iconic opening of “The Next Episode.” The actor also published a novel in 2016, titled Once a Crooked Man.

McCallum is survived by his wife of 56 years, Katherine McCallum, his sons Paul McCallum, Valentine McCallum and Peter McCallum, his daughter Sophie McCallum and his eight grandchildren: Julia McCallum, Luca de Sanctis, Iain de Sanctis, Stella McCallum, Gavin McCallum, George McCallum, Alessandro de Sanctis and Whit McCallum. In lieu of flowers, McCallum’s family asks that donations be made to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation at

A previously announced 20th anniversary marathon of NCIS on Monday will now feature an “In Memoriam” card to honour the actor, Entertainment Weekly reported.

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