Robert Urich: the strange cancer that ended the life of the television star of the 70s

In the late 1970s, many producers hired Robert Urich in awe of his youthful appearance (Photo: The Grosby Group)

They say that in the mid-1960s, female students at the University of Florida tried to spend more time in the hallways than in the classroom, and that when the football team played in the stands, the female audience outnumbered the male. It was not be for lowerly. Among the players stood out an athletic, friendly boy with a pint of those that causes Adonis himself to file a complaint for “unfair competition.” Was Robert Urich.

Urich was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Although his parents had nothing to do with show business, art began to run in the family. Robert used to listen with fascination to the stories he told Tom, his 10-year-old brother, who had decided to be an actor.

The scenarios attracted him. However, upon finishing secondary school his athletic physique and athleticism earned him a scholarship to the University of Florida. Without hesitation, he changed the cold streets of his city for the beaches of Miami. While he became one of the star players of the American football team – in which a few years before he had shone Burt Reynolds– He did not neglect his studies: he graduated in radio and television journalism. Upon completion, he completed a master’s degree in media management and research at the University of Michigan. In that city he worked as a commercial producer on a radio station and had his first approach to the cameras when he was hired as a meteorologist on a newscast. Then he drove his own talk show on a local chain.

Despite his academic scrolls, acting had already chopped, and began to collaborate in different theater companies. In Chicago, a talent scout advised him that that city was fine but that if he really wanted a career in show business he should move to Los Angeles. He did so.

In 1995 Robert Urich earned a star on the Walk of Fame (Photo: NBC Television / Getty Images)
In 1995 Robert Urich earned a star on the Walk of Fame (Photo: NBC Television / Getty Images)

The beginnings were not easy. What Urich wanted was to be a television director, but he knew that by looks and possibilities, what he could be was an actor. Furthermore, “I had a need to eat and I knew what it means to be out of work,” he used to explain.

Little by little his name began to be known and he got some small roles on television. One afternoon, his agent confirmed that he had landed him a small role in a big movie. Thus he was part of Dirty Harry, next to Clint Eastwood. However, the great possibility in the cinema did not come. “I had graduated as a researcher and was able to earn a living as such, but I had already shown my parents my pride by rejecting their help. I was very young and I resisted as long as I didn’t go through the humiliation of admitting my failure ”.

Popularity would not come from the big screen but from the small: television. They called him for different roles in the series Kung Fu, Marcus Welby and The law of the revolver. It is true that they were secondary roles but in the most watched programs of the moment, which implied that the public and especially producers each day identified a little more.

It was in 1975 that he achieved the leading role that would lead him to fame and that, among other countries, would make his face well known in Argentina: the series SWAT. The program narrated the adventures of a group of policemen belonging to an elite corps. At the beginning of each chapter it was very clear what it was about: “When people have problems they call the Police, but when the Police have problems they call SWAT.”

Robert Urich, with the cast of "SWAT"
Robert Urich, con el elenco de “SWAT”

SWAT it began to be broadcast in Argentina in 1976 and its success was immediate. At that time it was common to see boys playing and imitating the protagonists of the series. They all wore caps that at the time of fighting with the bad guys, they had to be placed with the visor back. The girls were divided between two teams. Those who sighed for the officer Luca, character played by the actor Mark Shera, and those who were in love with the officer Jim Street, embodied by Urich.

Despite its success, the program was short-lived. He was criticized for his excess of violence and for showing policemen who adhered more to “shoot first and ask later” than to true defenders of law and order.. Years later, Urich would explain why the series was canceled. “SWAT it was a real boom that catapulted all its performers to popularity. But the pressures of censorship, attacking it violently, determined its premature end, regardless of the disagreements that arose between Steve Forrest, the actor who played the squad commander, and the rest of the team. “

After playing Jim Street, Urich acted in other fictions, including Charlie’s Angels, but in none with continuity. “They are the inconveniences, the imponderables or the ups and downs, as they prefer to call it, of the entertainment world. A harsh, illogical, incomprehensible and sometimes even cruel world. Today you have plenty of good offers, good jobs and characters, and tomorrow … it’s over! You open your eyes and see with dismay that you have nothing left, that they have forgotten you, that your thousands of followers have leaned towards other idols ”.

Opportunity knocked on his door again and this time he did decide to stay a long while longer. Between 1978 and 1981 he starred in the series Las Vegas. For his performance he obtained two nominations for Golden Globes and its consecration as a sex symbol. He would never be out of work again, so much so that holds the record for the most roles obtained in television series.

In love he had a first marriage with Bárbara Rucker, which lasted from 1968 to 1974. The year after his divorce he fell in love and married the pretty Heather Menzies. The girl was known to have played Louisa von Trapp, one of the captain’s daughters Von Trapp, in that classic that is The Rebel Novice. Together they were the parents of three children, Ryan, Emily and Allison.

Robert Urich with his wife Heather Menzies, who also died of cancer, in 2017
Robert Urich with his wife Heather Menzies, who also died of cancer, in 2017

Without reaching the category of megastar, Urich had achieved an interesting career on television. His face became so familiar and familiar that, according to his humor, people would come up not to tell him about his characters but about his family or pets. In 1996 he starred in the series The Lazarus man when his body began to show signs that something was wrong. He made several medical consultations, studies, more studies, until the diagnosis was achieved: had a cellular synovial sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that attacks the body’s joints.

It is almost unimaginable what that diagnosis would have been for the actor and his family. Without wasting time, he started with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and underwent two surgeries.

Far from hiding, Urich understood that fame is also good for raising awareness and encouraging others. He made public his battle against the disease and began a series of conferences that took him to many cities in the United States and to speak to more than 200,000 people. With the help of his wife he created the Robert Urich Foundation for Sarcoma Research, to aid in cancer research.

Robert Urich, when faced with cancer
Robert Urich, when faced with cancer

As she transcended her illness, she received countless expressions of solidarity but also experienced that Hollywood can be a true “meat grinder”. When the executives of Castle Rock, without consulting it, they canceled The Lazarus man. The actor sued them for breach of contract since he maintained that despite his treatment he could work. He achieved compensation equivalent to $ 73,000 per episode, which is what he would have received for the second season.

While he was suing the studio, he continued his treatment and talks. When asked how he did to move forward, he replied “we cannot always control what happens to us but we can control how we react” and advised “Seek the best medical advice, accumulate hope and above all surround yourself with family and friends to face the situation”.

Urich kept fighting the disease, but I can’t beat it. He passed away on April 16, 2002 in California. He died surrounded by his family and friends, as he wanted, as we all want.

On April 16, 2002 he died in California
On April 16, 2002 he died in California

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Article: Soure