LOS ANGELES — Richard Anderson, the tall, handsome actor best known for costarring simultaneously in television’s “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman” in the 1970s, has died at age 91.
Anderson died of natural causes on Thursday, family spokesman Jonathan Taylor said.
“The Six Million Dollar Man” brought a new wave of supernatural heroes to television. Based on the novel “Cyborg” by Martin Caidin, it starred Lee Majors as U.S. astronaut Steve Austin, who is severely injured in a crash. The government saves his life by rebuilding his body with atom-powered artificial limbs and other parts, giving him superhuman strength, speed and other powers.
Anderson played Oscar Goldman, Majors’ boss at the secret government spy agency the astronaut went to work for after becoming a cyborg.
The show began as a TV movie in 1973 and when it proved a hit it was turned into a weekly series the following year. Its popularity led to a 1976 spinoff show, “The Bionic Woman,” starring Lindsay Wagner. Anderson took on the Oscar Goldman role in that show, too, sometimes appearing from week to week in both series.
In “The Bionic Woman,” Wagner was a tennis pro whose body was rebuilt after a near-fatal skydiving accident. After obtaining powers similar to those of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” she goes to work for the same government agency run by Anderson’s character.
The actor, who stood 6-feet-4, had begun his career in 1949 with a small role as a wounded soldier in “12 O’Clock High.” Soon after, his comedy scenes in a TV series called “Lights, Camera, Action!” drew the attention of MGM, which offered him a screen test and a contract.
He had decided to try acting after watching Gary Cooper movies, and at the screen test he performed a scene from Cooper’s “The Cowboy and the Lady.”
At MGM he played secondary roles in such movies as “The Magnificent Yankee,” ”Across the Wide Missouri,” ”Scaramouche,” ”The Story of Three Loves,” ”The Student Prince,” ”Hit the Deck” and “Forbidden Planet.”
“When people ask me where I received my education, I tell them it was at MGM U,” the Internet Movie Database quoted him as saying. “The biggest lessons that I learned is that acting is a talent. You can’t teach it. And even if you have the talent, you have to get the part.”
When MGM began thinning out its contract list in the late 1950s, Anderson was let go.
He went on to make movies for other studios, appearing in such films as Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory,” ”The Long Hot Summer,” ”Compulsion,’ “The Wackiest Ship in the Navy,” ”The Gathering of Eagles,” ”Johnny Cool,” ”Seven Days in May” and “Kitten With a Whip.”
Anderson was also a frequent guest on TV series and had regular roles on “Bus Stop,” ”Perry Mason,” ”Dan August” and “The Fugitive.”
Other television credits included “Slattery’s People,” “Dr. Kildare,” “The Virginian,” “The Rifleman,” “Bonanza,” “Mannix” and “The Mod Squad.”
He also acted as producer when “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman” were revived in later years as TV movies.
Richard Norman Anderson was born in Long Branch, N.J., on Aug. 8, 1928. He later moved to Los Angeles, where he began appearing in high school plays.
After two years in the Army, he began studying at the Actors Laboratory in Los Angeles. Soon he was landing work in radio and summer stock productions.
Anderson was married and divorced twice.
He and his first wife, Katharine Thalberg, daughter of actress Norma Shearer and movie mogul Irving Thalberg, had three daughters, Ashley, Brooke Dominique and Deva Justine. His second wife, Carol Lee Ladd, was the daughter of actor Alan Ladd.
JOHN ROGERS, Associated Press. The late Associated Press Entertainment Writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.