Robert Vaughn, actor and scholar, dies after battle with leukemia

Actor Robert Vaughn has died. The long-time Ridgefield resident was 83.

Actor Robert Vaughn has died. The long-time Ridgefield resident was 83. — Press photo archives

Actor, writer and director of film, stage and television, Robert F. Vaughn, of Ridgefield, died on Nov. 11. following a brief battle with acute leukemia. He was 83.

“Mr. Vaughn passed away with his family around him,” his manager Matthew Sullivan said in a statement.

He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Linda; his children, Cassidy and Caitlin, as well as his grandchildren, Robert and Eloise.

“Not many Hollywood stars could be properly addressed as “Dr.” But Robert Vaughn, the actor, is also a political activist and scholar whose Ph.D. thesis was so good, it was turned into a book,” Press historian Jack Sanders said about the actor on ridgefieldhistory.com.

“Nearly 30 years later, Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting is still in print and regularly assigned to law students. To most people, of course, Mr. Vaughn is Napoleon Solo of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., or the cowardly fop in The Magnificent Seven or the heavy drinking friend in The Young Philadelphians. Over his long career, he has appeared in more than 100 movies, starred in several TV series, appeared as a guest star hundreds of times in countless programs, and performed on the stage.”

According to the website’s Notable Ridgefielders section, Vaughn was doing stints as a radio talk show host as late as the 1990s “with a keen ability at debating politics”

“His political interests are deep-seated” Sanders wrote.

A liberal Democrat, Vaughn campaigned for John F. Kennedy (who was assassinated on Vaughn’s 31st birthday). He became a friend of Robert Kennedy and his family, and seriously considered running for office himself until Bobby Kennedy was also killed.

“I lost heart for the battle,” he said later, according to Sanders.

But he didn’t lose heart when it came to activism, and Mr. Vaughn, a one-time Army infantry drill sergeant, was the first major member of the film industry to speak out against the Vietnam War and before he was finished, had delivered more than 1,000 anti-war speeches.

Though already famous as an actor (he was Photoplay’s Actor of the Year in 1965), he took the role of journalist in covering the 1972 Democratic National Convention for radio KABC in Los Angeles.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Mr. Vaughn won an Emmy in 1977 for his portrayal of a shifty H.R. Haldeman-type character in Washington: Behind Closed Doors, a fictionalized mini-series of the Nixon administration.

Born in New York in 1932, Mr. Vaughn was the son of a radio-actor father and a stage-actress mother.

He majored in journalism at the University of Minnesota where, in 1951, he won an acting contest, decided to move to Los Angeles and pursue that career.

His first starring role was in Roger Corman’s Teenage Caveman in 1958. But it was his Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for The Young Philadephians that really launched his career.

He and his wife, Linda, a former actress who has been an activist against child abuse, moved to the historic Sunset Hall mansion on Old West Mountain Road in 1982.

In the mid-1990s, they sold the place and moved to a new home in Ridgebury where the multifaceted actor worked on his autobiography, Sanders said.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Friday, Nov. 18, at 1:15 p.m. at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church; 55 Catoonah Street, Ridgefield. Interment will be private and at the direction of the family, there will be no calling hours.

Memorial contributions may be made to Regional Hospice and Home Care, 30 Milestone Road; Danbury, 06810 or the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at www.lls.org

Kane Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

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Marty Heiser interviewed Vaughn on his local access cable show, Ideas at Work and Beyond:

 

 

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