David McCallum as Lt. Cmdr. Eric Ashley-Pitt in The Great Escape{image via United Artists}

Actor David McCallum, known for his role on the long-running CBS procedural NCIS, and for immortalizing the role of Ilya Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., has died, the network said in a statement. He was 90.

British actor and musician David McCallum gained international fame in the Sixties as Ilya Kuryakin on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  His last major role was as Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard on NCIS.  David McCallum died Monday, September 25, 2023, at the age of 90 at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, New York.

David McCallum, Jr.  was born in  Glasgow, Scotland, September 19, 1933.  When he was three years old his family relocated to London, England, as his father violinist David McCallum, Sr. was offered the position of leader of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  During the  Blitz, he and his mother, cellist Dorothy Dorman McCallum, evacuated London and returned to the relative safety of Scotland, settling by Loch Lomond.

He began his theatrical career doing boys’ voices for the radio in 1946 and got involved in local amateur theatre productions.  As the son of two musicians, he naturally considered music as a career, and studied the oboe.  He also played the guitar and the double bass.  He released four musical albums and seven spoken word albums.  After honorably finishing his service to queen and country in the British Army, he attended the famed Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, where one of his classmates was Dame Joan Collins, DBE, (Edith Keeler in Star Trek‘s “The City on the Edge of Forever” and special guest villainess the Siren on the Batman. TV show

ILYA KURYAKIN, the “good” Russian spy

The Man from U.N.C.L,E. was a popular spy adventure show in the 60’s.  It brought a minor, but respected British actor to international stardom.  McCallum played Ilya N. Kuryakin, who during the height of the Cold War played a good guy Russian spy who worked for the international secret agency the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.  McCallum as Kuryakin was an educated, suave secret agent, an expert with multiple weapons, fluent in several languages, a veteran of the Soviet Navy, who had been educated abroad.  His character had a master’s degree from the Sorbonne in Paris and a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics from England’s University of Cambridge.  McCallum received more fan mail than any other actor in MGM’s history.

The song “Love Ya, Ilya” Love Ya Illya, Song By Alma Cogan …. David McCallum…TMFU – YouTube echoed the feelings of millions of fans worldwide when he starred on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Despite its insipid lyrics the song was immensely popular on British pirate radio in 1966.

The Argentinean rap group llya Kuryaki and the Valderramas are named for the character of Ilya Kuryakin and the soccer player Carlos Valderarrama.  Hugo-winning author Lois McMaster Bujold allegedly based her character Simon Illyan, the head of Barrayaran Secret Service in her Miles Vorkosigan books on the character of Ilya Kuryakin.

Ilya Kuryakin was merely the first step in a long career of Geek Cred.  Rather, it was the first major step.  He had previously guested on two episodes of The Outer Limits.  He appeared in Around the World Under the Sea (1966) as Dr. Phil Volker.  MCallum had a guest role in one episode of Night Gallery.

His career in adventure, science fiction and fantasy included many noteworthy roles. McCallum famously played the time travelling Steel in Sapphire and Steel (1979-1982).  He starred as Dr, Daniel Westin, physicist turned secret agent in the 1975-76 TV show The Invisible Man.  In 1976-77 he starred as computer scientist .Dr. Joseph Bloom in VR5. McCallum co-starred as Dr. Luke Pratt in The Screaming Skull (1973).   He starred as Sir Henry Curtis in the remake of King Solomon’s Treasure (1979).  David McCallum appeared in the horror film The Haunting of Morella (1990) as Gideon.  In 1994 McCallum made a guest appearance on one episode of Babylon 5, as Vance Hendrick in “Infection.”  In Team Knight Rider, he played Mobius.

Much of his voicework fell into the category of Geek Cred.  He voiced Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler three times in Batman vs. Robin (2015), Son of Batman (2014), and Batman: Gotham Knight (2008).  He also voiced Merlin in Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  McCallum voiced the god Zeus in the animated Wonder Woman movie (2009).  In the Ben Ten series, David McCallum provided the voice of Professor Paradox.

Awards and Honors

David McCallum was nominated for three primetime Emmies, two for The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in 1965 and1966 and one in 1969 for iTeacher, Teacher.  He was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in 1966, also for The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

David McCallum’s theatrical career stretched from the legitimate stage to radio work to television and movies.  His career lasted from 1946 to 2023:  seventy-seven years.  He celebrated his 90th birthday only six days ago.  It was a long and full life.  

“For over 20 years, David McCallum endeared himself to audiences around the world playing the wise, quirky, and sometimes enigmatic, Dr. Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard,” said NCIS executive producers Steven D. Binder and David North. “But as much as his fans may have loved him, those who worked side by side with David loved him that much more. He was a scholar and a gentleman, always gracious, a consummate professional, and never one to pass up a joke. From Day 1, it was an honor to work with him and he never let us down. He was, quite simply, a legend. He was also family and will be deeply missed.”

David Callum is survived by his wife of 56 years, Katherine McCallum, his sons Paul McCallum, Valentine McCallum and Peter McCallum, his daughter Sophie McCallum and his eight grandchildren: Julia McCallum, Luca de Sanctis, Iain de Sanctis, Stella McCallum, Gavin McCallum, George McCallum, Alessandro de Sanctis and Whit McCallum.  As they say in Wakanda, “our comfort to you.”  We will miss a talented actor, musician, and author.  They have lost a husband, a father, and a grandfather.  

Co-star Mark Harmon said “David lived a great, full, long life,” Harmon shared in a statement to TVLine. “I was in awe when I first met him and all of us on the show were honored to have toed a mark opposite him. My condolences go out to Katherine and his family.”

David Callum was married twice, to his first wife, actress Jill Ireland from 1957 to 1967, and to his second wife Katherine Carpenter from 1967 to 2023. He and Jilll had three sons, one of whom predeceased him. He and Katherine had a son and a daughter. David McCallum became a naturalized US citizen August 27, 1999.

In lieu of flowers, McCallum’s family asks that donations be made to the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation at http://www.mcsf.org.  No immediate memorial service will take place, instead a celebration of life service will be held in the future.


Susan Macdonald
Susan Macdonald

Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as 26 short stories, mostly fantasy in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, Swords &Sorceries Vols. 1, 2, & 5, “Cat Tails” “Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions,  Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.