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George Maharis, who starred as the brooding Buz Murdock on Route 66 before he quit the acclaimed 1960s CBS drama after contracting hepatitis, has died. He was 94.
Maharis died Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills, his longtime friend and caregiver Marc Bahan told The Hollywood Reporter.
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Route 66, created by Stirling Silliphant and Herbert B. Leonard, featured the Hell’s Kitchen native Murdock and Martin Milner‘s Yale dropout Tod Stiles touring the highways of America in Tod’s Chevrolet Corvette, encountering adventure along the way.
The show “was really kind of a searching or what you may have seen hundreds of years ago where the people came over the mountains to go from one place to the other to find a better life, a place where they belonged, and they didn’t rely on anybody else to do it for them,” Maharis told The Seattle Times in 2008.
All 116 installments of the series over four seasons starting in October 1960 were filmed in cities across the U.S., making for a grueling production schedule.
Midway through the third season in late 1962, Maharis came down with hepatitis, was hospitalized for a month and missed several episodes. (On the show, it was explained that Buz was in a Cleveland hospital battling an “echo-virus,” and Tod got a new traveling companion, Lincoln Case, played by Glenn Corbett).
Maharis returned to Route 66 but didn’t stay long, suffering a relapse. “The doctor said, ‘If you don’t get out now, you’re either going to be dead or you’re going to have permanent liver damage,'” Maharis recalled in a 2007 interview.
Maharis, who had received an Emmy nomination in 1962 for playing Buz, said it took him more than two years before he was able to regularly work again.
The dark-haired actor ventured into movies, starring in John Sturges’ The Satan Bug (1965), a sci-fi thriller for The Mirisch Co. and United Artists, but he never attained the rebel-stardom his TV popularity augured.
Maharis was born on Sept. 1, 1928, in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, New York, one of seven children to Greek immigrants. He attended Flushing High School and spent 18 months with the U.S. Marines.
He aspired to become a singer but became interested in acting and studied with Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg at The Actors Studio, then did a parody of fellow Method actor Marlon Brando on the NBC comedy Mister Peepers in 1955.
Maharis landed his first big role in an off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s Deathwatch in 1958 and appeared in Edward Albee‘s first produced play, The Zoo Story, also off-Broadway, two years later.
He portrayed an underground freedom fighter for Otto Preminger in Exodus (1960), and on the CBS soap Search for Tomorrow, he starred as a gambler who mistreated his wife.
On an April 1959 episode of Naked City, the gritty ABC series created by Silliphant, Maharis appeared as a character who longed to see the world, and that installment served as a pilot for Route 66.
During production of Route 66, Maharis somehow found time to fly to New York City to record a 1962 album for Epic Records, and he had a single that made to No. 25 on the Billboard charts, “Teach Me Tonight.”
After he became sick, Maharis asked that his hours on Route 66 be reduced, but producers refused. In the 2007 interview, he discounted talk that he used his condition to break his contract in order to jump into the movies. A lack of chemistry between Milner and Corbett contributed to Route 66 being canceled in March 1964.
Maharis’ first movie after his starring turn on television was the light comedy Quick Before It Melts (1964). He then starred as a private detective opposite Carroll Baker in Sylvia (1965), in A Covenant With Death (1967) and, as a hippie, in The Happening (1967).
In the 1970s, Maharis turned back to TV. He, Ralph Bellamy and Yvette Mimieux portrayed criminologists on the short-lived series The Most Deadly Game, and he was a prizefighter on the 1976 miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man. He also appeared on such shows as Marcus Welby, M.D., Night Gallery, McMillan & Wife, The Bionic Woman and Fantasy Island.
Maharis later made occasional ventures back into film, which included playing a resurrected warlock in The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982), and his last onscreen appearance came in The Evil Within (1993).
In July 1973, he posed nude for Playgirl magazine, becoming the second actor (after Lyle Waggoner) to do so.
Survivors include a brother and sister.
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