Sunday, February 26, 2006

Rest in Peace Night Stalker

It's been a difficult weekend for fans of classic televivison, stage, and movies.

Just hours after the announcement of the passing of comedy great Don Knotts, came word that another Hollywood veteran had passed away.

Darren McGavin, a man whose career spanned everything from Mike Hammer to the original “Kolchak the Night Stalker” died on Saturday of natural causes. He was just three months shy of his 84th birthday.

McGavin was an actor of incredible breadth, capable of hilarious comedic performances or tense dramatic turns.

But it was as the renegade newspaper reporter in the white suit working for the fictional I.N.S. wire service that he became best known to a generation in the 70s.

The TV show “The Night Stalker” featured McGavin as Karl Kolchak who continually faced down vampires, monsters, zombies and other bizarre creatures, although no one –including his long suffering editor - ever believed him.

The “Night Stalker” started as a series of TV movies and had a short run in 1974, but it’s fondly remembered as a cult show that would inspire a viewer named Chris Carter to create his own weird classic years later – “The X Files”.

The actor would later make a few cameos on the show.

This season's remake was quickly cancelled, although it contained one golden moment in the first episode -- McGavin’s original character digitally inserted into one shot.

McGavin was trained in New York and got his big break in the 1955 movie “The Man with the Golden Arm,” considered one of Frank Sinatra’s greatest films.

That landed the young thespian his first TV role as Mickey Spillane’s hard boiled detective Mike Hammer a year later.

A long series of movies and TV parts followed, and he won an Emmy for playing Murphy Brown's father in a 1990 episode of the Candice Bergen series.

But it’s one outstanding film role that assures McGavin will forever be remembered at least once a year.

His turn as the irritable, constantly cursing “Old Man”, Ralphie’s dad in the classic “A Christmas Story”, turned the actor into a holiday icon.

His warning that his son will “put his eye out” with his dreamed of Red Ryder BB gun is heard every year in December.

Surveys show the film has become one of the favourite Christmas movies of all time, and a U.S. cable network runs it for 24 hours straight every December 25th.

McGavin’s death was announced on his official website.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Darren McGavin at approximately 7:10am Pacific time Saturday 25, 2006 …

“Darren is gone, but in many respects he will always be with us: as Carl Kolchak, fighting authority and battling monsters; the grumpy Old Man sending curses over Lake Michigan; as David Ross, the outsider, Grey Holden, captain of the Enterprise, the irascible detective Mike Hammer or any number of memorable guest star appearances.”

He leaves behind four children and a legion of fans.

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