Robert Conrad, the rugged, contentious actor who starred in the hugely popular 1960s television series “Hawaiian Eye” and “The Wild Wild West,” died Saturday. He was 84.
The actor died of heart failure in Malibu, California, family spokesperson Jeff Ballard said. A small private service is planned for March 1, which would have been his 85th birthday.
“He lived a wonderfully long life and while the family is saddened by his passing, he will live forever in their hearts,” Ballard said.
With his good looks and strong physique, Conrad was a rising young actor when he was chosen for the lead in “Hawaiian Eye.” He became an overnight star after the show debuted in 1959.
Conrad played Tom Lopaka, a daring private investigator whose partner was Tracy Steele, played by Anthony Eisley. They operated out of a fancy office overlooking the pool at a popular Waikiki hotel.
The two private eyes alternated on simple investigations with help from the island’s colorful characters, including a singer named Cricket Blake (Connie Stevens) and a ukulele-strumming taxi driver named Kazuo (Poncie Ponce).
After five seasons with the show, Conrad went on to embrace the television craze of the time, period Westerns, but with a decidedly different twist.
In “The Wild Wild West,” which debuted in 1965, he was James T. West, a James Bond-like agent who used innovative tactics and futuristic gadgets (futuristic for the 1800s anyway) to battle bizarre villains. He was ably assisted by Ross Martin’s Artemus Gordon, a master of disguise.
The show aired until 1969.
The series “Baa Baa Black Sheep” followed in 1976 and was roughly based on an autobiography by Marine Corps ace and Medal of Honor recipient Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, who wrote of the raucous fliers he commanded during World War II.
Conrad played Pappy Boyington, so nicknamed because he often rescued his pilots from severe punishment. Bringing his customary intensity to the role, he even learned to fly.
The NBC series was enjoyed by male viewers but not so much by women and it was dropped after its first season. It was revived in December 1977 as “Black Sheep Squadron,” after the network’s new shows failed to find audiences. It continued on for another season.