David McCallum, ‘NCIS’ Actor Sampled by Dr. Dre, Dead at 90

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David-McCallum-obit - Credit: Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images
David-McCallum-obit - Credit: Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images

David McCallum, — the actor whose decades-long acting career included roles as a spy in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to playing chief medical examiner Donald “Ducky” Mallard in CBS’ crime procedural NCIS — died on Monday. He was 90.

NCIS confirmed his death in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. The announcement did not provide a cause of death.

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McCallum was a trained actor, having studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He portrayed a wide range of characters throughout his career, which included roles in theater, film, and television.

One of his breakthrough roles came in 1964, when he played Illya Kuryakin in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He was meant to have a small part in the comedic series, with only four lines in the first episode, but that changed after he stepped into the role and suggested his character would be more intriguing if he was secretive about his personal life. “Nobody knows what Illya Kuryakin does when he goes home at night,” he explained in an interview. That led to the writers working to make his character more central to the series. He was nominated for two Emmy Awards for the role.

While serving as Kuryakin until 1968, his heartthrob fame also grew, much to his chagrin. “McCallum’s motorcades are now, by order of the police chiefs of the cities he visits, forbidden to stop anywhere along the line of drive,” The New York Times reported in a 1965 profile. “If the entourage slowed, there would be carnage in the streets.”

While he combated the heartthrob image, an interesting lesser-known fact about McCallum is that his instrumental song “The Edge” was sampled by Dr. Dre for the blockbuster hit “The Next Episode” featuring Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Kurupt. McCallum’s opening lines serve as a definitive aspect of the hip-hop megahit. Alongside its use in several other hip-hop tracks, “The Edge” was also featured in the 2017 film Baby Driver.

The actor assumed less high-profile roles following The Man From U.N.C.L.E. series’ end, but despite turns as supporting cast on TV and B-movies parts, his Russian secret agent beginnings defined him. “It’s been 30 years, but I can’t escape him,” he told The Times in 1998. “Illya Kuryakin is there 24 hours a day.”

That changed in 2003 when a new generation and character offered a reboot for the actor: When he portrayed Donald Mallard on N.C.I.S. His character, a.k.a. Ducky, who served as the eccentric medical examiner, was a fixture on the series for two decades. He served in the role until his death.

On Friday, the series posted a tribute to McCallum on X. “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,” read the statement. “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.”

“David lived a great, full, long life,” Mark Harmon, McCallum’s longtime N.C.I.S. co-star, shared in a statement to TVLine. “I was in awe when I first met him and all of us on the show were honored to have toed a mark opposite him.”

Michael Weatherly, who played Anthony DiNozzo on N.C.I.S., also remembered the actor on social media. “David McCallum made every moment count, in life and on set,” wrote Weatherly on X. “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.”

This is a developing story…

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