LOS ANGELES (AP) — Actor Roger Smith, who brought glamour to the TV detective genre as a hip private eye on “77 Sunset Strip,” has died. He was 84.
Jack Gilardi, who is the agent of Smith’s widow, actress Ann-Margret, said the actor died Sunday morning at a Los Angeles hospital after battling a terminal illness. Smith had battled the nerve disease myasthenia gravis for many years.
The actor launched his career in the 1950s when James Cagney spotted him and recommended him for films. He survived two serious illnesses to have a second career after “77 Sunset Strip” as manager of his second wife, entertainer Ann-Margret.
From 1958 to 1963, he co-starred with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. on the glossy ABC series. It made stars of both men and a teen heartthrob out of Edd Byrnes, who played a colorful parking lot attendant named Kookie.
“77 Sunset Strip” had been created by producer-writer Roy Huggins, who also created “Maverick,” and it spawned a host of spinoffs and knockoffs, including “Hawaiian Eye,” ″Surfside 6″ and “Bourbon Street Beat.”
Smith told the Los Angeles Times that the series aimed to show that private investigators were well-trained, serious men, and not the movie and TV stereotype with “dangling cigarettes and large chips on their shoulders.” He was chosen for the part because “I don’t look like a detective.”
But the show had its glamorous side, too. In its Encyclopedia of Television, the Museum of Broadcast Communications said the show revived the crime drama and became “the epicenter of hipness on television, a sun-drenched world of cocktails, cool jazz and convertibles.”
Then Smith was hospitalized after falling down at home and losing consciousness. He was diagnosed two days later with a blood clot on the brain. In a March 1960 story on the incident, Look magazine blamed medical mistakes for the delay in diagnosis and quoted a doctor as saying, “This boy came too close to being buried — needlessly.”
He rejoined “77 Sunset Strip” after recovering and continued in his role as Jeff Spencer until 1963 when the entire cast except Zimbalist was dropped in attempt to revitalize it. The show lingered for only one more year.
Meanwhile, Smith got the title role in the NBC series based on “Mister Roberts,” based on the 1955 comedy-drama about Navy life. It lasted from 1965-66.
When he first gained fame, he had been married to a glamorous Australian actress, Victoria Shaw, with whom he had three children. They divorced in 1965.