Robert Urich

A star athlete in high school, Toronto, Ohio, native Robert Urich grew into one of television's most versatile actors before his death April 16, 2002, from cancer.

Urich's almost constant presence on television over his 30-year career earned him a record for starring in the most TV shows (15), according to the trivia book, 10,000 Answers: The Ultimate Trivia Encyclopedia, by Random House.

Born in Toronto, Dec. 19, 1946, Urich, a son of Cecelia Urich of Toronto and the late John Urich, was a talented athlete and captain of his high school football team. However, he also served as the choir master for the school choir and performed in school plays.

He attended Florida State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in communications, on a football scholarship, and went on to receive a Master's degree from Michigan State in broadcast research and management.

After leaving Michigan State, Urich began his career in the broadcasting business as an account executive and ultimately headed the station's research department. He also served a brief stint as a TV weatherman.

His break through into acting came through fellow FSU alum, Burt Reynolds, who helped him land a role in a stage production of Richard Nash's The Rainmaker. Urich's first television role came in 1973, when he landed the role of Bob Sanders in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, based on the 1969 Paul Mazursky film of the same name.

Although the show was quickly canceled, Urich was back on television just two seasons later portraying a Los Angeles police officer in S.W.A.T. After S.W.A.T was canceled in 1976, he then played Billy Campbell in ABC's groundbreaking comedy, Soap.

Over the next 25 years, he would never be out of a regular television series for more than three seasons, and he also was frequently seen in documentary specials as well as made-for-television movies. His most memorable television roles were as private detectives - first as Dan Tanna of Vega$, which ran from 1978 to 1981, and then in Spenser: For Hire that aired from 1985 to 1988.

It was in 1996 as he was starring in the TNT Western, The Lazarus Man, when he announced that he had been diagnosed with synovial cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the joints and can spread to the lungs. Apparently as a result of his diagnosis, the series was canceled, Urich, however, battled on. Following several rounds of chemotherapy, radiation treatments and two surgical procedures, he returned to host Vital Signs, an ABC reality series that featured re-enactments of real-life medical dramas told by the physicians and patients involved.

In 1998, he landed the lead role as the captain on an ABC update of The Love Boat. In the fall of 2001, he co-starred on the NBC's sitcom Emeril and continued to do a number of TV movies.

Over the span of his career, Urich also appeared in a number of television miniseries, such as Lonesome Dove, as well as a handful of theatrical films, including Magnum Force and Turk 182!

In 1992 he was the recipient of an Emmy for his narration of the documentary, U-Boats: Terror on Our Shores, as well as a Cable ACE Award as host of the National Geographic series On Assignment.

Urich was awarded the 2,059th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in December 1995.

After his diagnosis with cancer, he became an advocate for cancer research and along with his wife, Heather, whom he married in 1974, established the Robert Urich Foundation for Sarcoma Research at the University of Michigan Cancer Center.

He received the Gilda Radner Courage Award from the Rosewell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, and was named national spokesman for the American Cancer Society in 1998.

Beside his wife, Urich is survived by three children, Allison, Ryan and Emily; his mother; a sister; and two brothers.