Born: March 1, 1935;

Died: February 8, 2020.

ROBERT Conrad, who has died aged 84, was an American actor, director, producer, stuntman and singer who became a fixture on American television series in the last four decades of the 20th century, playing a procession of square-jawed, flint-eyed action heroes, including cops, spies, private investigators, crusading lawyers and the occasional villain.

He was most famous and widely-remembered for the role of Jim West in The Wild Wild West (1965-69), a series conceived by its creator Michael Garrison as a fusion of the old-fashioned American western and the then-booming spy genre. Conrad’s West was a rugged, charming secret service agent who, alongside Ross Martin’s Artemus Gordon, brought James Bond-style flirtation and futuristic gadgetry to late 19th century America.

The Wild Wild West ran for four series spanning 104 episodes in total, although when it went off-air, it was nothing to do with declining popularity. In fact, the show continued to be successful with all ages, but – in light of growing campaigns against TV violence and high-profile violence and assassinations in 1968 – it was voluntarily cancelled in advance of escalating protests by the CBS network.

The show made a regular feature of fistfights and gunplay, and Conrad performed most of his own stunts and fight sequences, until a brush with near-fatal injury thanks to a fall caused the network to insist he use a stunt double.

After its near half-decade in existence, the show’s legacy grew through syndicated repeats, and the original cast and characters returned in the television films The Wild Wild West Revisited (1979) and More Wild Wild West (1980). In 1999 Barry Sonnenfeld directed a rebooted film version named simply Wild Wild West, with Will Smith in the role of West, playing opposite Kevin Kline.

Among Conrad’s other roles, he was the Hawaiian private detective Tom Lopaka in four series of Hawaiian Eye (1959-63), a spin-off of 77 Sunset Strip, in which he also appeared; deputy LA District Attorney Paul Ryan in The DA (1971-72) and two spin-off TV films. He was an American bar owner/spy in Cold War Europe in the short-lived Assignment Vienna (1972-73); a US Marine Corps fighter captain in Baa Baa Black Sheep (aka Black Sheep Squadron, 1976-78); a boxer-turned-PI in The Duke (1979); and the lead in the spy series A Man Called Sloane (1979).

Conrad also took guest roles in hit series of their day like Maverick, Mission: Impossible, Mannix and Columbo, as well as 1978’s blockbuster American history drama, Centennial.

Alongside this his film career was more low-key, including roles in his own co-written and co-directed Mexican historical thriller The Bandits (1967), the Sean Connery-starring Wrong is Right (aka The Man with the Deadly Lens, 1982) and the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Jingle All the Way (1996).

Around 1979, two decades after his debut role in the Western series Bat Masterson, Conrad shifted focus away from series-led leading roles towards television movies, many of them made through his own production company. These included Watergate biography Will: The G. Gordon Liddy Story (1982) and the George Hamilton co-starring Two Fathers’ Justice (1985) and Two Fathers: Justice for the Innocent (1994), while he continued to return to series, including his final television role in Nash Bridges (2000).

Robert Conrad was born Conrad Robert Falk in Chicago in 1935, to Leonard and Alice. His mother later remarried and went to work for Mercury Records, while Conrad dropped out of school to work manual jobs, re-entering education to study theatre at Midwestern University. He signed with Warner Bros, and took small acting roles for them, as well as recording numerous pop singles in the late 1950s, although none were met with major success (Conrad was taught music by the composer and pianist Dick Marx, and decades later appeared in the video for his tutor’s son Richard’s international hit, Hazard).

His last two decades were spent away from the lens, and involved work with the Screen Actors’ Guild, hosting his own talk-radio show, and induction into the Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame, although his involvement in a serious car accident in 2003 led to a conviction for drunk driving and lasting physical injury. Married twice, to Joan and LaVelda, Conrad had eight children. He died of heart failure at home in Malibu, California.