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Talented actor whose blossoming career was truncated by untimely death

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Though it has been over 20 years since the American actor, Robert Urich, passed away, his legacy has continued to thrive even in the present day. Even with his life being cut short at such an early age due to a terminal illness, Urich accomplished so much and had a portfolio full of work that was sufficient for years after his career ended prematurely.

The personal life of the late actor, who won over hearts and carved out a wonderful niche for himself, is also covered in this piece, along with other important details. 

Robert Urich’s biography

Robert Urich

Robert Urich was an American actor who was born on December 19, 1946. Urich’s early life was grounded in the city of Toronto, Canada, where he spent his formative years. He came from a family with Rusyn and Slovak ancestry and was raised in the Byzantine Catholic and Roman Catholic traditions.

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Urich was not only talented in the world of entertainment but also academically inclined. He attended Florida State University on a football scholarship and played as a backup centre during the 1965–66 football season. During his time at Florida State, he became a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in radio and television communications in 1968, he pursued higher education at Michigan State University and got a master’s degree in Broadcast Research and Management.

Urich dabbled with television sales and weather forecasting before dedicating himself entirely to the acting profession. He had a sales job in Chicago throughout his early career, mostly at WGN-TV. The inspiration for him to go to Los Angeles and pursue a full-time acting career came from a fortuitous meeting with actor Burt Reynolds during a Chicago production of “The Rainmaker”.

Urich’s zodiac sign is Sagittarius. Sagittarians are often characterised as adventurous, independent and optimistic individuals, and these are traits that may have resonated with their life and career choices.

Urich’s charisma and versatility as an actor allowed him to star in a remarkable 15 television series throughout his 30-year career. He was known not only for his acting talents but also for his philanthropic efforts. His advocacy for cancer research and awareness stemmed from his battle with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. 

Robert Urich’s career

Robert Urich in a movie

Urich’s journey in the entertainment world began in the early 1970s. He made his television debut with a guest-starring role in The F.B.I. in 1972. The following year, he got a lead role in the television series Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, which was an adaptation of the 1969 film of the same name. Despite its short run, this early exposure helped him establish himself in the industry.

Urich’s big break came when he made his film debut in the 1973 movie Magnum Force, starring alongside Clint Eastwood. He portrayed a vigilante motorcycle patrol police officer in this iconic film.

In 1975, Urich was cast in the action/crime drama series, S.W.A.T., where he played the role of “Officer Jim Street”. The show’s mid-season replacement status did not hinder its success, as it garnered high ratings. However, it was eventually cancelled in 1976 due to its violent content.

Urich changed course in 1977 when he signed on to star in the sitcom Soap as “Peter Campbell” and “The Tennis Player”. Additionally, he portrayed the attractive and self-centred talk show presenter, Paul Thurston, in the bewitched spin-off series, Tabitha

Robert Urich smiling

Urich’s career-defining moment arrived in 1978 when he landed the lead role of “Dan Tanna” in the crime drama series, Vega$. This role was pivotal in his career, and he portrayed a private detective solving various crimes in Las Vegas. Vega$ was a hit for ABC and also for Urich as it earned the actor two Golden Globe Award nominations for his outstanding work. 

After Vega$, Urich signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and began focusing on film roles. His first film for MGM was Endangered Species in 1982, a science fiction film directed by Alan Rudolph. He continued to star in films like The Ice Pirates (1984) and Turk 182 (1985). However, his heart remained on television.

In 1985, Urich returned to episodic television as the title character in Spenser: For Hire. This detective series, based on Robert B. Parker’s mystery novels, was a hit and aired for three seasons. Urich also reprised the role in several television films after the series’ cancellation.

In 1988, the versatile Urich hosted the documentary series National Geographic Explorer. His work on the show earned him a CableACE Award. In the same year, he portrayed “Jake Spoon” in the acclaimed television miniseries Lonesome Dove and received widespread positive reviews for his performance.

Urich’s primary roles in the 1990s were in television films and a few short-lived TV shows. His sitcom roles included American Dreamer and It Had to Be You. Additionally, he served as host of the medical documentary series, Vital Signs. Following his cancer struggle, Urich made a spectacular recovery as he starred in Love Boat: The Next Wave in 1998 and appeared on Broadway in Chicago in 2000.

Throughout his professional life, Urich was well-known for his commitment to charitable endeavours, especially cancer research. Through his advocacy work, he was recognised with awards from the John Wayne Cancer Institute and the Gilda Radner Courage Award for his efforts to raise awareness of cancer. The Urich Fund was established by Urich and his spouse, Heather Menzies, to provide funding for cancer research at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

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Robert Urich movies

Robert Urich on a magazine

Throughout his lengthy career, Urich featured in many on-screen works, ranging from blockbuster movies to beloved family-favourite sitcoms. Here is a list of movies and shows that the actor appeared in, according to IMDb.

Film:

  • 1973Magnum Force as “Officer Mike Grimes”
  • 1982Endangered Species as “Ruben Castle”
  • 1984The Ice Pirates as “Jason”
  • 1984Invitation to Hell as “Matt Winslow”
  • 1985Turk 182 as “Terry Lynch”
  • 1988April Morning as “Joseph” (Credit at the beginning only)
  • 1989Dragon Fight as “Airport Police”
  • 1992Jock: A True Tale of Friendship as “Rocky” (Alternative title: Jock of the Bushveld)
  • 1994Jock of the Bushveld as “Jack ‘Rocky Mountain Jack’”
  • 1996Young Again as “Michael Riley, Age 40”
  • 1996The Angel of Pennsylvania Avenue as “Angus Feagan”
  • 2002Clover Bend as “Bill”

Television:

  • 1972The F.B.I. as “Davie Stroud” (Episode: “The Runner”)
  • 1973Kung Fu as “Greg Dundee” (Episode: “Blood Brother”)
  • 1973Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law as “Unknown” (Episode: “A Girl Named Tham”)
  • 1973Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice as “Bob Sanders” (12 episodes)
  • 1973Marcus Welby, M.D. as “Mike Lowry” (Episode: “Death Is Only a Side Effect”)
  • 1974Killdozer! as “‘Mack’ McCarthy” (Television film)
  • 1974Nakia as “Unknown” (Episode: “A Beginning in the Wilderness”)
  • 1975The Specialists as “Dr. William Nugent” (Television film, credited as Robert York)
  • 1975Gunsmoke as “Manolo Etchahoun” (Episode: “Manolo”)
  • 1975–1976S.W.A.T. as “Officer Jim Street” (37 episodes)
  • 1977Bunco as “Walker” (Television film)
  • 1977Soap as “Peter Campbell, ‘The Tennis Player’” (8 episodes)
  • 1977–1978Tabitha as “Paul Thurston” (12 episodes)
  • 1977–1978The Love Boat as “Various Roles” (3 episodes)
  • 1978Charlie’s Angels as “Dan Tanna” (Episode: “Angels in Vegas”)
  • 1978–1981Vega$ as “Dan Tanna” (69 episodes)
  • 1979When She Was Bad… as “Bob Morgan” (Television film)
  • 1979Password Plus as “Himself” (Game Show Participant / Celebrity Guest Star)
  • 1987Amerika as “Peter Bradford” (Miniseries)
  • 1988Cheers as “Himself” (Episode: “Woody for Hire Meets Norman of the Apes”)
  • 1988Hallmark Hall of Fame as “Joseph Simmons” (Episode: “April Morning”)
  • The Comeback (1989) as “Scotty Malloy” (Television film)
  • She Knows Too Much (1989) as “Harry” (Television film)
  • Lonesome Dove (1989) as “Jake Spoon” (Miniseries)
  • Night Walk (1989) as “Detective Jake Simon” (Television film)
  • Spooner (1989) as “Harry Spooner / Michael Norlon” (Television film)
  • Murder by Night (1989) as “Allan Strong” (Television film)
  • Blind Faith (1990) as “Rob Marshall” (Television miniseries)
  • A Quiet Little Neighborhood, a Perfect Little Murder (1990) as “Ross Pegler” (Television film)
  • 83 Hours ‘Til Dawn (1990) as “Bradley Burdock” (Television film)
  • Carol & Company (1990) as “Mr. Carmen” (Episode: “Teacher, Teacher”)
  • American Dreamer (1990–1991) as “Tom Nash” (17 episodes)
  • Stranger at My Door (1991) as “Joe Fortier” (Television film)
  • …And Then She Was Gone (1991) as “Jack Bauer” (Television film)
  • Survive the Savage Sea (1992) as “Jack Carpenter” (Television film)
  • Blind Man’s Bluff (1992) as “Thomas Booker” (Television film)
  • Double Edge (1992) as “Harry Carter” (Television film, Alternative title: Hit Woman)
  • Revolver (1992) as “Nick Suster” (Television film)
  • Spenser: A Savage Place (1995) as “Spenser” (Television film)
  • A Horse for Danny (1995) as “Eddie Fortuna” (Television film)
  • She Stood Alone: The Tailhook Scandal (1995) as “Admiral Williams” (Television film)
  • Captains Courageous (1996) as “Captain Matthew Troop” (Television film)
  • The Lazarus Man (1996) as “Lazarus / James Cathcart” (20 episodes)
  • The President’s Man: A Line in the Sand (2002) as “President Adam Mayfield” (Television film)
  • Night of the Wolf (2002) as “Purly Owens” (Television film)
  • Aftermath (2002) as “Jack” (Television film, final film role)

Robert Urich’s net worth

During his career, Urich was reportedly worth $4 million before his demise.

Robert Urich’s family

Robert Urich with his wife

Urich was married twice during his lifetime and had three children. His first marriage was to actress Barbara Rucker. They were married from 1971 to 1974, but their marriage ended in divorce.

Urich’s second and most enduring marriage was to actress Heather Menzies. They got married in 1975 and remained together until Urich’s demise in 2002. Heather Menzies was best known for her role as “Louisa von Trapp” in the classic film, The Sound of Music.

The couple had three children together. Their son, Ryan, was born in 1979. The couple’s second child, Emily Urich, was born in 1980. Urich also became a stepfather to Allison Grady, Menzies’ daughter from a previous marriage.

Robert Urich age

At the time of his death, Urich was 55 years old.

Robert Urich now

Robert Urich passed away on April 16, 2002. He died from complications related to synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. He had been battling this cancer for several years before his death at the age of 55. His passing marked the end of a long and successful career in the entertainment industry.

Urich’s legacy lives on through his work, advocacy and the impact he had on the entertainment industry and the fight against cancer. His contributions to television and film continue to be celebrated by audiences worldwide. Currently, Urich is recognised with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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