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TV Legend Dead At 91

Actor Mike Connors, 91, famous for having starred as a rough-and-tumble Los Angeles private investigator on the multi-season CBS crime drama “Mannix,” died of leukemia at a hospital in Tarzana, California, on Jan. 26. 

The actor had been diagnosed with the disease only a week before his death. He died surrounded by his family, including his wife of 68 years, Mary Lou, whom he met at UCLA when the two were students, Deadline reports. 

As Joe Mannix, the heroic detective of the CBS action series, he raked in one of TV’s highest salaries in the early 1970s. He had also played basketball for star coach John Wooden at UCLA, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“Mannix” was the last series to be produced by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s renowned TV business Desilu Productions. The series ran for eight seasons from September 1967 to April 1975. 

The show’s first season had Joe Mannix working for Intertect, a major Los Angeles detective agency managed by Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella). Not cut out for corporate work, and as of the second season, Mannix starts working for himself out of a home office. 

Notable for showcasing the era’s cool muscle cars, such as a 1969 Dodge Dart, a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda convertible and a 1974 Dodge Challenger, Mannix’s image was that of the stereotypical cool, masculine hero. 

Considered highly violent for its time, by one estimation, Mannix was shot 17 times and banged unconscious 55 times on the series. Connors said in a 1997 Los Angeles Times interview that the series was decidedly less violent than modern-day crime shows. 

“We did have car chases and fights,” he remembered, “but when you compare them to shows that are on now, we were very, very low-keyed.”

Even though he had eaned up to $40,000 per episode, in May 2011, he sued CBS and Paramount for millions of dollars for unpaid royalties.

Connors was nominated four times for the Emmy from 1970-73 and six times for the Golden Globe from 1970 -75 but picked up a trophy just once, collecting an a ward from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in 1970. 

“I loved the show, I loved doing it, and it had no negatives as far as I was concerned,” Connors said in a 2014 interview. “The show itself started a whole new era of detective shows, because this wasn’t the usual cynical private eye a la Humphrey Bogart. It was more a show about an all-around normal human being.”

He added, “The character of Joe Mannix could be taken advantage of by a pretty face, he could shed a tear on an emotional level, he was very close to his father and his family, so he was more a normal personality with normal behavior. I think that’s a part of why the show was so successful.”

Connors is survived by his wife Mary Lou, his daughter Dana, his son-in-law Mike Condon and his granddaughter Cooper Wills. His only son, Gunner, died nine years ago.

Sources: Deadline, The Hollywood Reporter / Photo credit: CBS Television/Wikimedia Commons

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