Legendary actor Roger Smith, best known for his role as a hip private eye on “77 Sunset Strip” is dead at age 84. His acting career spanned decades, and was originally spotted by James Cagney in the 1950s who recommend him for a movie career. He met Cagney during a two and a half year service in the Navy Reserve, while singing at a social event in Hawaii.
He is survived by his second wife, entertainer Ann-Margaret. He battled the nerve disease myasthenia gravis for years.
This is tragic loss for detective show fans:
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.
For decades, Smith guided Ann-Margret’s career with great care as her husband and manager. Margaret went on to a fantastic movie career, with Oscar nominations for “Carnal Knowledge” and her role as Roger Daltrey’s mother in the movie version of the Who’s rock opera “Tommy.”
— Newsday (@Newsday) June 6, 2017
Let us pray for Smith’s family during this difficult time. Rest in peace.