Robert Martin Culp (August 16, 1930 – March 24, 2010) was an American actor, screenwriter, voice actor and director, widely known for his work in television. Culp earned an international reputation for his role as Kelly Robinson on I Spy (1965–1968), the espionage series in which he and co-star Bill Cosby played a pair of secret agents. Prior to that, he starred in the CBS/Four Star western series, Trackdown as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman from 1957-1959.
The 1980s brought him back to television. He starred as FBI Agent Bill Maxwell on The Greatest American Hero and also had a recurring role as Warren Whelan on Everybody Loves Raymond. In all, Culp gave hundreds of performances in a career spanning more than 50 years.
Culp was born on August 16, 1930 in Oakland, California, to Crozier Cordell Culp, an attorney, and his wife, Bethel Martin (née Collins) Culp. He graduated from Berkeley High School, where he was a pole vaulter and took second place at the 1947 CIF California State Meet.
He attended the College of the Pacific, Washington University in St. Louis, San Francisco State College, and the University of Washington School of Drama but never completed an academic degree.
Culp first came to national attention very early in his career as the star of the 1957–1959 Western television series Trackdown, in which he played Ranger Hoby Gilman, based in the fictional town of Porter, Texas, of which he is also the sheriff. Trackdown is a spin-off of Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre, which also aired on CBS. Culp's character was introduced in an episode titled "Badge of Honor." Culp later appeared in two other episodes of Zane Grey Theater — "Morning Incident" and "Calico Bait" (both 1960) playing different roles. Trackdown then had a CBS spin-off of its own: Wanted: Dead or Alive, with Steve McQueen as bounty hunter Josh Randall.
After Trackdown ended in 1959 following two seasons on the air, Culp continued to work in television, including a guest-starring role as Stewart Douglas in the 1960 episode "So Dim the Light" of CBS's anthology series, The DuPont Show with June Allyson. In the summer of 1960, he guest starred on David McLean's NBC western series, Tate. He also played Clay Horne in the series finale, "Cave-In", of the CBS western Johnny Ringo, starring Don Durant. In 1961, Culp played the part of Craig Kern, a morphine addicted soldier, in the episode "Incident on Top of the World" in the CBS series Rawhide. About this time, Culp was cast on the NBC anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show and in the NBC Civil War drama, The Americans.
Culp was cast as Captain Shark in a first season episode of NBC's The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964). Among his more memorable performances were in three episodes of the science-fiction anthology series on ABC The Outer Limits (1963–1965), including the classic "Demon with a Glass Hand," written by Harlan Ellison. In the 1961 season, he guest starred on the NBC's western Bonanza In the 1961–1962 season, he guest starred on ABC's crime drama Target: The Corruptors!. In the 1962–1963 season, he guest starred in NBC's modern Western series Empire starring Richard Egan. In 1965, he was cast as Frank Melo in "The Tender Twigs" of James Franciscus's NBC education drama series, Mr. Novak, guest starring along with the Crawford brothers, Johnny and Robert.
Culp then played secret agent Kelly Robinson, who operated undercover as a touring tennis professional, for three years on the hit NBC series I Spy (1965–1968), with co-star Bill Cosby. Culp wrote the scripts for seven episodes, one of which he also directed. One episode earned him an Emmy nomination for writing. For all three years of the series he was also nominated for an acting Emmy (Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series category), but lost each time to Cosby.
In 1968, Culp also made an uncredited cameo appearance as an inebriated Turkish waiter on Get Smart, the spy-spoof comedy series, in an I Spy parody episode titled "Die Spy." In this, secret agent Maxwell Smart played by Don Adams in effect assumes Culp's Kelly Robinson character as he pretends to be an international table-tennis champion. The episode faithfully recreates the I Spy theme music, montage graphics, and back-and-forth banter between Robinson and Scott—with actor/comedian Stu Gilliam imitating Cosby.
In 1971, Culp, Peter Falk, Robert Wagner, and Darren McGavin each stepped in to take turns with Anthony Franciosa's rotation of NBC's series The Name of the Game after Franciosa was fired, alternating a lead role of the lavish 90-minute show about the magazine business with Gene Barry and Robert Stack.
Culp is also remembered as the special guest murderer in three separate Columbo episodes (in 1971, 1972, and 1973) and also appeared in a 1990 episode, then as the father of one of two young murderers.
In 1973, Culp almost took the male lead in the sci-fi television series Space: 1999. During negotiations with creator and executive producer Gerry Anderson, Culp expressed himself to be not only an asset as an actor, but also as a director and producer for the proposed series. The part instead went to Martin Landau.
Culp co-starred in The Greatest American Hero as tough veteran FBI Special Agent Bill Maxwell, who teams up with a high school teacher who receives superpowers from extraterrestrials. Culp wrote and directed the second season finale episode "Lilacs, Mr. Maxwell," with free rein to do the episode as he saw fit. The show lasted three years from 1981 to 1983. He reprised the role in a voice-over on the stop-motion sketch comedy Robot Chicken.
In 1987, he reunited with Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show, playing Dr. Cliff Huxtable's old friend Scott Kelly. The name was a combination of their I Spy characters' names.
When contract negotiations with Larry Hagman over his character, J.R. Ewing, on the soap opera Dallas faltered, it was rumored that Culp was ready to step into the role. However, this turned out to be untrue. Culp said in interviews that he was never contacted by anyone from Dallas about the part. He was working on The Greatest American Hero at the time and stated that he would not have left his role as Maxwell even if it had been offered.
Culp also had a recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond as Warren Whelan, the father of Debra Barone and father-in-law of Ray Barone. He appeared on episodes of other television programs including a 1961 season three episode of Bonanza titled "Broken Ballad," as well as The Golden Girls, The Nanny, The Girls Next Door and Wings. He was the voice of the character Halcyon Renard in the Disney adventure cartoon Gargoyles.
In I Spy Returns (1994), a nostalgic television movie, Culp and Cosby reprised their roles as Robinson and Scott for the first time since 1968. Culp and Cosby reunited one last time on the television show Cosby in an episode entitled "My Spy" (1999), in which Cosby's character, Hilton Lucas, dreams he is Alexander Scott on a mission with Kelly Robinson. Robert Culp also appeared on Walker, Texas Ranger as Lyle Pike on the episode "Trust No One" (February 18, 1995).
Culp worked as an actor in many theatrical films, beginning with three in 1963: As naval officer John F. Kennedy's good friend Ensign George Ross in PT 109, as legendary gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok in The Raiders and as the debonair fiance of Jane Fonda in the romantic comedy Sunday in New York.
He went on to star in the provocative Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice in 1969, probably the height of his movie career.
Another memorable role came as another gunslinger, Thomas Luther Price, in Hannie Caulder (1971) opposite Raquel Welch.
A year later, Hickey and Boggs reunited him with Cosby for the first time since I Spy. Culp also directed this feature film, in which he and Cosby portray over-the-hill private eyes. In 1986, he had a primary role as General Woods in the comedy Combat Academy.
Culp played the U.S. President in Alan J. Pakula's 1993 murder mystery The Pelican Brief starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts.
Culp lent his voice to the digital character Doctor Breen, the prime antagonist in the 2004 computer game Half-Life 2. This was not his first video game role, however: he also appeared in the 1993 game Voyeur.
The video clip of "Guilty Conscience" features Culp as an erudite and detached narrator describing the scenes where Eminem and Dr. Dre rap lyrics against each other. He only appears in the music video. In the album version, the narrator is Mark Avery.
On November 9, 2007, on The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly interviewed Culp about the actor's career and awarded Culp with the distinction "TV Icon of the Week."
Culp played "Simon," Blanche's beau, in the episode "Like the Beep Beep Beep of My Tom Tom" when Blanche needs a pacemaker on The Golden Girls.
Culp married five times and fathered three sons - Joshua (1958), Jason (1961), and Joseph (1963) - and two daughters - Rachel (1964) and Samantha (1982). From 1967 to 1970, he was married to Eurasian (Vietnamese-French) actress France Nguyen (known as France Nuyen), whom he had met when she guest-starred on I Spy. She appeared in four episodes, two of them written by Culp himself. His grandson, Elmo Kennedy O'Connor, is a rapper and performs under the alias Bones.
Culp wrote scripts for seven I Spy episodes, one of which he also directed.[which?] He would later write and direct two episodes of The Greatest American Hero.[which?] He also wrote scripts for other television series, including Trackdown, a two-part episode from The Rifleman, and Cain's Hundred.
He was a friend of Hugh Hefner, with whom he often played poker and frequently visited at the Playboy Mansion.
Culp took frequent walks in the Runyon Canyon, a park close to his apartment in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. On the morning of March 24, 2010, he left the apartment to go for a walk. Later, a jogger found him lying unconscious on the sidewalk (foot path) close to the lower entrance of the canyon. Police officers and paramedics were summoned quickly, but they were unable to revive him.
Culp was taken to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, but all efforts at resuscitation were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead at about 11:00 a.m. He was 79 years old. Although the first reports from the police suggested that Culp died from striking his head on the ground when he fell, it was later found that he had collapsed and died of a heart attack. Culp's only injury from his fall was a minor cut on his head.
On April 10, 2010, a memorial service for Culp was held at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles, with his family, friends, and some of his fans attending. At the time of his death, Culp had just completed the filming of a supporting role in the motion picture, The Assignment. Culp was also working on several screenplays at the time of his death. One of these screenplays, an adaptation of the story of Terry and the Pirates, had already been accepted for filming, and it was scheduled for the start of production in Hong Kong later in 2012, with Culp being the film director. Terry and the Pirates had been Culp's favorite comic strip as a boy, and it was his longtime wish to make a film based on it.
Culp was buried in the Sunset View Cemetery in El Cerrito, California, located not far from his hometown of Oakland.
Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre (3 episodes, 1957-1960)
Trackdown as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman (70 episodes, 1957-1959)
Bonanza as Ed Pason (1959)
The Westerner as Shep Prescott in "Line Camp" (1960)
Outlaws as Sam Yadkin in "Thirty a Month" (1960)
Rawhide, Season 3 Episode 12. "Incident at The Top of The World" as Craig Kern (1961)
The Rifleman (2 episodes, 1960, 1962)
Hennesey as Dr. Steven Gray in "The Specialist" (1961)
The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor as Herbert Sanders in "Bad Apple" (1961)
Target: The Corruptors! as Meeker in "To Wear a Badge" (1961)
87th Precinct as Curt Donaldson in "The Floater" (1961)
Sammy the Way Out Seal as Chet Loomis (1962)
The Architects of Fear (TV - Outer Limits season 1 Episode 3 (1963) "Corpus Earthling" (TV - Outer Limits season 1 Episode 9 (1963) "Demon with a Glass Hand" ( TV - Outer Limits Season 2 Episode 5 (1964)
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (TV - The Shark Affair) (1964)
PT 109 (1963)
Sunday in New York (1963)
Empire as Jared Mace in "Where the Hawk Is Wheeling" (1963)
Gunsmoke (TV - 1 episode) (1964)
I Spy as Kelly Robinson (1965-1968)
Get Smart (TV - Die, Spy) (1968)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV - Suspense as husband/accomplice (1968)
Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1969)
Married Alive (TV) (1969)
Columbo (TV - Death Lends a Hand) (1971)
Hannie Caulder (1971)
Columbo (TV - The Most Crucial Game) (1972)
Hickey and Boggs (1972)
What's My Line? (TV) (1972)
A Name for Evil (1973)
A Cold Night's Death (TV) (1973)
Outrage (TV) (1973) as Jim Kiler
Columbo (TV - Double Exposure) (1973)
Match Game (TV - 5 episodes) (1973)
The Castaway Cowboy as Calvin Bryson (1974)
Houston, We've Got a Problem as Steve Bell (1974)
Sky Riders (1976)
Flood! (1976 Irwin Allen Production) as Steve Brannigan
Spectre (TV) (1977)
The Dream Merchants (TV)
Killjoy (TV movie) (1981) as Lou Corbin
The Greatest American Hero (TV) (1981-1983) as Bill Maxwell
Turk 182 as The Mayor (1985)
The Gladiator as Lt. Frank Mason (1986)
"The Nanny" as Stewart Babcock (1993)
The Pelican Brief as the President of the United States (1993)
Xtro 3: Watch the Skies (1995)
Most Wanted (1997) as Donald Bickhart
Conan the Adventurer as King Vog (1 episode, 1998)
Holding the Baby (1 episode, 1998)
Everybody Loves Raymond (TV) (1998) (11 episodes) as Warren Whelan
Unconditional Love (1999) as Karl Thomassen
Wanted (1999/I) as Fr. Patrick
The Cosby Show as Scott Kelly (1 episode, 1987)
Dark Summer (2000) as Judge Winston
Chicago Hope as Benjamin Quinn (1 episode, 2000)
NewsBreak (2000) as Judge McNamara
Running Mates (2000) (TV) as Sen. Parker Gable
Eminem: E (2000) (V) as Narrator (segment "Guilty Conscience")
Hunger" (2001) as The Chief
Farewell, My Love (2001) as Michael Reilly
Blind Eye (2003) (V) as Isaac
The Dead Zone as Jeffrey Grissom (1 episode, 2003)
The Almost Guys (2004) as The Colonel
Half-Life 2 (2004) (VG) (voice) as Dr. Wallace Breen
Early Bird (2005) (TV)
Santa's Slay (2005) as Grandpa
Half-Life 2: Episode One (2006) (VG) (voice) as Dr. Wallace Breen
Robot Chicken as Bill Maxwell / Sheriff of Nottingham (1 episode, 2007)
1. Obituary The Times, April 5, 2010.
2. Grimes, William (March 24, 2010). "Robert Culp, Star in 'I Spy,' Dies at 79". The New York Times.
3. McLellan, Dennis (March 25, 2010). "Robert Culp dies at 79; actor starred in 'I Spy' TV series". Los Angeles Times.
4. "California State Meet Results-1915 to present". Hank Lawson.
5. Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), pp. 103-106
6. Starburst issue 8 (April 1979)
7. "L.A. Rapper Bones Has Some of the Eeriest Videos in the Music Business, and a Sound All His Own". January 2014.
9. T. Rees Shapiro (2010-03-25). "Robert Culp dead; actor conveyed charm and wit on TV's 'I Spy'". The Washington Post.