Mike Connors, who often played rugged but likable heroes, has died at 91, according to an obituary posted by Variety.
Connors was best known as the private eye title character in Mannix (1967-75). But he also participated in the 1960s spy craze as the star of Kiss The Girls and Make Them Die, a 1966 film which had a plot very similar to the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker.
Connors was athletic, having played basketball at the University of California-Los Angeles under legendary coach John Wooden. For a time, he was billed as Touch Connors, a nickname he picked up from his basketball days.
He displayed his athleticism in the Mannix pilot, written by Bruce Geller and directed by Leonard J. Horn.
In the story’s climax, a helicopter piloted by a killer dive bombs Mannix at a California desert golf course. Images from the sequence would be incorporated in the show’s main and end titles.
In the show’s first season, Mannix worked at a large detective agency with a rigid set of rules devised by owner Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella). This was devised to set up a conflict of the individual (Mannix) coping with the system. Wickersham was based on Lew Wasserman, the head of MCA Corp., the then-parent company of Universal Studios.
During that first season, there was a recurring bit where Joe would demonstrate to Intertect just how good he was only to purposely goof up.
In one episode, while on the firing range, he fires bulleyes at the first three targets perfects and then purposely miss the next five. In another, Mannix and other Interect operatives went on a foot race. Mannix would have easily won but decided to go off and enjoy a smoke instead.
That was all thrown out in the show’s second season as Joe struck off on his own, helped only by his secretary Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher).
Mannix absorbed a lot — A LOT — of punishment throughout the show’s eight seasons. As played by Connors, he was both tough and compassionate, always on the side of the underdog.
Prior to Mannix, Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die was an amusing project for Connors. The film included a sequence where agent Kelly (Connors) climbs into the Christ the Redeemer statue, fighting off enemy operatives.
The actor’s career was extensive, with his IMDB.COM entry listing more than 100 credits.