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Read About the Life and Career of Robert Urich — From ‘Vegas’ to ‘Lonesome Dove’

The actor went from college football player to on-screen star!

Not many actors can say they starred in 15 television series throughout their career, but Robert Urich accomplished just that – and more – within his 30 years in showbiz.

With his silky, comforting voice, rugged good looks and appealing everyman quality, Urich began his career in TV in the early 70s.

Born Robert Michael Urich in Toronto, Ohio on December 19, 1946, Bob, as he was known to family and friends, excelled in high school athletics and attended Florida State University on a football scholarship. Earning a bachelor’s degree in Radio and Television Communications, he went on to Michigan State University to earn a master’s degree in Broadcast Research and Management, ultimately working as a weatherman in Chicago’s WGN-TV.

Robert Urich, 1965
Robert Urich, 1965Getty

Along with FSU classmate Burt Reynolds, the two appeared in a local Chicago production of The Rainmaker, Urich playing Reynolds’ younger brother. It was with Reynolds’ encouragement that Urich packed his bags and moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting full time, bunking down in Reynolds’ home.

Robert Urich in the 70s

In 1972, Urich made his TV debut with a guest appearance on The F.B.I., and in 1973, made his big screen debut opposite Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force, playing one of his very few bad guy roles as a vigilante motorcycle patrol police officer.

The actor in 1980
Robert Urich, 1980Getty

The bad guy cop turned good guy cop when cast in 1975’s action/crime series S.W.A.T., where Urich played Officer Jim Street. It was his ole buddy Burt Reynolds who convinced executive producer Aaron Spelling to let Urich read for the part.

In 1977, Urich’s was in the sitcom Soap as Peter the Tennis Player, and the same year he appeared in Tabitha, starring Lisa Hartman in the title role. Ratings declined and the Bewitched spin off series was cancelled.

Spelling remembered the strapping young actor of S.W.A.T. and cast him in the lead in his series Vegas in 1978. This time was Dan Tanna, a private detective who solved various crimes in Las Vegas.

Robert Urich, Vegas, 1978
Robert Urich, Vegas, 1978Getty

To prepare for the role, he packed on 40 pounds of muscle, boosting his weight from 180 pounds to a solid, muscular 220 pounds. The show was an immediate hit, possibly due to the location, but more so due to Urich’s presence. He received two Golden Globe nominations.

The actor in the 1980s and beyond

After Vegas went off the air, the actor turned his attention to feature films, his first being 1982’s sci-fi adventure Endangered Species. In 1984, Urich starred in two films, The Ice Pirates and Invitation to Hell.

With the lukewarm reception of Turk 182, Urich returned to TV as the title character in Spenser: For Hire, an immediate hit. In 1988, he hosted the documentary series National Geographic Explorer and won a CableACE Award for doing so.

The actor in 1982
Robert Urich, 1982Getty

He also received an Emmy for his narration of the cable documentary U-Boats: Terror On Our Shores. However, it was Lonesome Dove, where he portrayed Jake Spoon, that proved to be a highlight of his career, receiving both critical and audience acclaim.

Television films and short-lived TV series came and went during the 1990s: American Dreamer, 83 Hours ‘Til Dawn, Crossroads and It Had To Be You, the latter opposite Faye Dunaway.

The actor in 1982
Robert Urich, 1982Getty

Later came the TNT western series The Lazarus Man, almost tailor-made for the actor’s rugged looks and acting abilities. Right after the show was picked up for its second season, Urich announced he had been diagnosed with the rare form of cancer synovial sarcoma.

While undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, he hosted the medical documentary series Vital Signs in 1997, as well as the series Boatworks. After a year of treatment, he was declared cancer free and returned to TV in 1998 as Captain Jim Kennedy III in Love Boat: The Next Wave, having actually guest starred three times on the original show.

Urich also made his Broadway debut as Billy Flynn in 2000’s Chicago and starred in the North American tour of the musical. His last role was on TV’s Emeril sitcom and his final TV film, Night of the Wolf, aired on Animal Planet the night before his death in 2002 at age 55.

Robert Urich and Heather Menzies, 1983
Robert Urich and Heather Menzies, 1983Getty

During his treatments, remission and return of the cancer, Urich advocated for cancer cure research. He and wife Heather Menzies established the Urich Fund at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center to support cancer research.

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